Why the tech giant thinks it’s time to update its architectural “hardware” with store redesigns
by Zoë Zellers
While iPhone users can live-chat with experts, service their tech toys and make purchases all at the tap of a screen, Apple still promotes human connectivity, and with that, believes in the power of in-store visits. To back that, the mega-retailer is taking great strides to redesign, and in some cases, expand, its physical presence.
Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior VP of retail, told CBS News that the redesign — and an accompanying launch of an experience-based educational program, “Today at Apple” — will hit all Apple’s 495 stores this month. It’s been 15 years since Apple first opened its sleek, minimalist standalone spaces, which strayed from commission-based salespeople in favor of “geniuses” who guide purchases and repairs. It was Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson’s revolutionary concept at the time.
Today, Apple is placing its bets on a plan to tweak architectural and design highlights, toying with the familiarity established through iconic, brightly lit, white and light wood-clad image. At stake? The high objective of developing a communal “hangout” vibe in the “selfie” era with a robust lineup of music, coding and art-driven events in hopes of luring Gen Z into the stores to experience the physical prowess of the brand. Even a millennial may need a reintroduction since close to half now have children — the retail concept could not, so to speak, stay your father’s Apple store forever. (Kids Hour will officially become a thing, with sessions spanning from making music with GarageBand to coding with robots).
Some have speculated that the redesign comes in reaction to declining iPhone and Mac sales in 2016. But with competitors like Samsung creating its VR-rich Manhattan space with free concerts, yoga and chef demos, Apple’s retail design team may have just felt the tides turning toward a more exploratory, playful culture of shoppers ready to be entertained and rewarded for their efforts to visit stores in person.
Apple’s stores will be refashioned to resemble “town squares,” according to Ahrendts, who worked with design chief Jony Ive. Shoppers can expect an open format, with expansive light boxes running along the ceiling, touch-sensitive wood tables and wide, backlit built-in sequoia shelving with discreet pull-out drawers, all balanced with interactive “windows” featuring new products.
A huge thank you to everyone helping to bring Today at Apple to our customers next month!https://t.co/OiXdhZ4pXf
— Angela Ahrendts (@AngelaAhrendts) April 25, 2017
With brick-and-mortar stores closing at a record rate, and other tech giants like Amazon and Google opening doors, Apple is flexing its retail muscle in transforming hundreds of stores at once. In 100 of Apple’s largest stores like the Union Square San Francisco flagship, large-scale digital screens will anchor meetings and classes and add flexibility to wall displays. Some Genius Bars will transition from clean, if not sterile, help desks into tree-lined Genius Groves, acknowledging the outside world where users are frequently engaged on their iPhones and iPads.
While specific details on the vision remain rumors at best, New York City officials did publically approve a proposal to remove the Fifth Avenue Apple location’s famed exterior glass cube, according to Crain’s, which says it’ll likely be replaced after store renovations. The high-performance space will soon expand to more than double its square footage, sizing up to 77,000 square feet. Apple topped off this display of confidence in the power of standalone retail in April, unveiling its luxuriously redesigned store outside the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Ahrendts referred to the architectural redesign as a necessary update to the brand’s “hardware,” while inside, the turn-on, turn-off features like events, digital displays and tech support, or the “software,” are also being polished.
The investment is not just about how the space is redesigned, but also about how the Apple store is perceived and can play a bigger part in the neighborhood. “Today at Apple” will launch at the end of May, incorporating classes, teachers and interactive experiences. “Genius” experts will now share the floor with “Creative Pros,” who connect the dots between tech and the arts through niche expertise in areas like photography and music. Artists and musicians will also transform the traditional retail box into a bona fide live venue.
Ahrendts told CBS their goal is akin to what Starbucks did to elevate the daily java run. Apple hopes to lure repeat visitors with cool, communal spaces that will promote human connection and deliver a gratifying experience (perhaps one that guests might feel compelled to Snapchat, Tweet, Facebook or Instagram, of course).
Image credits: Getty Images