My Apple Wedge
Visitors at the Apple Retail Store
Although Tom just wrote his article about an Apple store opening during his recent visit to the mall, I decided to postpone my user report/interview until December and write a piece about my visit to the new Apple store in Chandler, Arizona, whose opening coincided with the opening of the Chandler Fashion Center mall.
The Chandler store is Apple’s twelfth retail store, with many more to come all over the country. It’s actually the first of two to be located in the Phoenix Valley; the second will be opened at Scottsdale, AZ Fashion Square. It features a spacious retail area with displays on the sides of the store, shelves with software along the center, the genius bar in the back right, and the theater in back center, just like all other Apple retail stores.
To differentiate my article from Tom’s, yet keep it a worthwhile read, I decided to interview store employees and customers to get a real feel for how Apple’s retail strategy is panning out. I put my MiniDisk player/recorder in my back pocket, strapped on my lapel microphone and lightweight headphones, and recorded people’s answers to questions from a questionnaire I had put together beforehand.
Thanks to Mark McClelland, Senior PR manager of Corporate Communications, I had received an invitation to the press event that happened before the store opening. Arriving at the store at a half hour before the opening, I was greeted by window displays a little out of the ordinary: the left window contained a massively oversized iBook, complete with an iBook placed on a rotating display cylinder. The right window had hanging displays of the Mac OS X desktop and a couple of Apple’s applications. As far as window dressing is concerned, Apple’s oft-used slogan came to mind again: Think different.
Window dressing at the Apple retail store in Chandler, AZ. © 2001 Scott Swanson. All rights reserved.
Outside the store a crowd of 170 people was patiently waiting in line to get in. At 9:45 AM about 200 people were waiting in line, and at 10:00 about 220 people. By 11:45 the line had shrunk to about 50 people, and only at 12:30 pm was the line no longer. I was glad to have a press pass.
Apple employee filming the line at the opening of the Apple retail store in Chandler, AZ. © 2001 ProGravix Digital Design. All rights reserved.
My tour of the store began with the press event, during which the invited members of the local press were briefed by Ron Johnson, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail. Following on the previous eleven stores around the country, this was to be Apple’s biggest opening yet. Johnson expected about 4,000 customers throughout the course of opening day. They were going to be taken care of by 22 sales associates, some of whom were flown in from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino or other Apple stores around the country, e.g. Gingher Green, manager of Apple’s retail store in Plano, near Dallas, Texas.
I tried to find out more details about the type of training the employees had received, but was always referred to headquarters in Cupertino. All I could pry out of anyone was that all of the 600 new retail store employees this year had received “extensive, service-oriented training” at headquarters. They were briefed on topics like hardware, software (including OS X), troubleshooting, and service philosophy. In the words of Ron Johnson, it is “harder to become a store employee than to get into Stanford,” referring to the number of applications for store positions. This would explain the low turnover (which is basically non-existent), a new concept for computer retail.
Employees at the Genius Bar eager to answer customers’ questions. © 2001 Scott Swanson. All rights reserved.
Another question I had come across on the Web in the days leading up to the Chandler store opening was what kind of hardware service offerings they have at the store. In that respect, Apple’s mission is to provide troubleshooting on your hardware for the first fifteen minutes for free after which they will send it to Apple to resolve the issue. My concern, and other people’s, is that even if your piece of hardware is still under warranty and repair is free, then it may take a while to have it fixed, during which time you’re out your Mac. Maybe some type of loaner insurance would be possible somehow?
When I asked what Apple has done to simplify OS and software installations on the machines in the stores I was told that they are planning on using Netboot in the future, but for now they are using FireWire drives and ASR (Apple’s Software Restore) to perform installations on store computers. Another question that burned in some people’s minds was how Apple is dealing with shoplifting, since there didn’t seem to be any theft-protection system: well, they are trying to deal with it the same way other stores are.
A minute before opening time Gingher Green was leading the employees to the front of the store, all the while clapping to the beat of the B52’s Love Shack and shouting enthusiastically to greet the equally enthusiastic first shoppers. Passersby outside the store stopped in their tracks to see what the devil was going on that was causing such a ruckus and that big a crowd in the first place. The music was coming out of the store’s stereo system that was fed by the QuickSilver G4 in the theater area running iTunes.
First in line at the Apple retail store in Chandler, AZ. © 2001 ProGravix Digital Design. All rights reserved.
Then the first customers entered, all with wide grins on their faces, a little like kids in a candy store. It wasn’t too long before the first product was being purchased, a TiBook. Lots of other purchases followed, which is no real surprise judging by the massive crowds that populated the store on opening day.
This was the time when I started taking notes on what kind of customers were frequenting the store: the crowd spanned all age groups, (from my interpretation of the looks of it) several social scales, all ethnic groups, but it was decidedly male—but then again, less so than during my visits on event days at CompUSA’s store-within-a-store as a customer or a demo days rep. Maybe the retail store concept will be able to ameliorate that and prove to be more enticing to women to check out Apple’s offerings and those of third parties.
The store is divided into six sections: Products, Solutions, Genius Bar, Theater, Software, and Etc. Yes, you read right, “Etc.”: that’s the name of one of the sections. The Products section contains “Macintosh computers, displays and AirPortTM, Apple’s revolutionary wireless networking solution.” Solutions is the area where Apple offers third-party products that interface with Macs, i.e. for making desktop movies, creating digital camera prints or photo albums for your Web site, putting your music library on a Mac and burning custom CDs, and letting your kids explore education software and games, turning the often cited concept of the digital hub into reality. All throughout the store, however, you cannot find the word “computer” advertised anywhere—it’s all part of the digital hub.
Customer checking out the latest iBook offerings at the Apple store in Chandler, AZ. © 2001 ProGravix Digital Design. All rights reserved.
The Genius Bar was a welcome place for customers. Here they could find answers to difficult questions they were unable to get answers for anywhere else. The employees behind the counter of this special area have extensive technical training in all things Apple. In case they cannot answer a question they have the ability to call Apple headquarters in Cupertino and get advice from the senior technical experts, from the horse’s mouth so to speak. During my visit I did not see it being used; that speaks for the store employees, I’d say.
The “bat phone” at the Apple retail store in Chandler, AZ. Stump a genius behind the Genius Bar, and they will call Cupertino directly. © 2001 Scott Swanson. All rights reserved.
The center of the store divides the store into left and right halves. On either side of the center shelves Apple customers can choose from a selection of over 600 different software titles. This may help dispel the myth that there is “no software available for the Mac.” One of the people I interviewed is a radio producer who found the software he was looking for.
The software aisle at the Apple retail store in Chandler, AZ, holding more than 600 different titles. © 2001 Scott Swanson. All rights reserved.
The “funnest” part of the store is, as many expected, the kids’ area. It contained a round of iMacs loaded with Nanosaur and edutainment software. That also seemed to be the most comfortable area judging by how comfortable the chairs are: ball-shaped, black hard-foam seats. However, the seats were always taken during the three hours I was there.
Kids enjoying their own special area set up with iMacs at the Apple store in Chandler, AZ. © 2001 Scott Swanson. All rights reserved.
From the back of the store you could hear ooohs and aaahs every half hour: this is where the theater is located. Demos shown included OS X, Microsoft’s Office suite, and other Apple favorites like QuickTime. It always attracted a good crowd, easy enough on opening day. Many people were interested in Mac OS X and how well it ran, and how well applications run under it. When they saw, for example, how fast a Word document opened, or how a QuickTime movie was still playing while minimized in the dock, folks couldn’t help but let out sounds of amazement.
Ooohs and Aaahs kept coming from the theater area in the back where the latest software offerings were being demonstrated. © 2001 Scott Swanson. All rights reserved.
I think this is the one most important aspect of Apple retail stores: hands-on, immersive experience in a controlled environment. Forget about CompUSA store-within-a-store experiences where none of the Macs are turned on and nobody is on hand to help you. Some people just need to touch and feel the product before they buy it. It won’t help them to look at an image of a Mac at on online retailer’s Web site. Ditto with catalog retailers: a picture may say a thousand words, but if you cannot hear those words loud and clear, like through a Harman Kardon sound system hooked up to the new iMac, it just is not enough.
Let’s now turn to what customers actually said about their retail store opening experience: below is a summary of the results from the questionnaire I put together. All the people I interviewed were very friendly and didn’t hesitate to give answers to the questions I wanted to ask them. Please note that this survey is neither truly random nor scientific, although I tried to ask people from all parts of the spectrum. I interviewed nine people, so sample size isn’t great either, by any standards. My thanks go out to all interviewees: Stephen Barta (the second store patron, but really the first, if you take the time he arrived at the mall: 2:30 in the morning!), Scott Swanson, David Blackman, Ken Moskovitz, Bjoern Kathofer, Barbara Freedman, Dan Garrity, Colin and Alan Stark, and Jared Everson.
Many people came from cities in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, but several from further away, including Tucson. Accordingly, they traveled anywhere from five minutes to two hours. The interviewees all endured waiting in line for some period of time. Reasons for coming to the store varied from “checking out the store” to trying to buy hardware or software. People were generally impressed by the store overall and liked its layout and bright design. Equally appreciated was the concept and design of the Genius Bar. Interviewees liked the idea of being able to ask a specialist in person and be assured of an answer on the spot. Moreover, they were delighted by the knowledgeable sales staff, who were able to answer most of their questions, and when they didn’t know an answer, they made sure the question was answered by someone at the Genius Bar.
Apple employee dispensing advice at the Apple store in Chandler, AZ. © 2001 ProGravix Digital Design. All rights reserved.
Attitudes towards the theater area were a little more mixed in that interviewees could not readily imagine how helpful this area might be on a regular basis, but some patrons insisted that it was a great idea excellently suited for showing demos, with a lot of flexibility. It’s so much better than the endless tape of the vacuum cleaner at the JCPenney store: now Apple can show a demo of whatever is of particular interest to the crowd at the store. The mixed attitudes may be due to the fact that most interviewees had not had the time to sit down and watch any of the demos being shown. There was just too much to check out and the crowd was too big to get through swiftly. That was also the reason that except for a couple of people interviewed most did not try out the AirPort network that was deployed in the vicinity of the Apple store.
Customers using Apple’s wireless Airport Ethernet outside the Apple store in Chandler, AZ. © 2001 ProGravix Digital Design. All rights reserved.
That, however, did not discourage any interviewees from proclaiming their shopping experience a success, mainly because it was so hands-on. This was also the main point mentioned as an advantage to Apple opening retail stores in the first place. Most people recognized increased brand recognition, and that a retail store is the place for a one-stop-shopping experience heretofore unbeknownst to Mac users anywhere. The only concern seemed to be what the stores will do to Apple’s bottom line, as the expense of having a store infrastructure is quite considerable.
Seventy-eight percent of the people interviewed are Mac users, and 85 percent of those are veterans, having used Macs at least nine years. Fifty-seven percent of the Mac users are using OS 9; the remaining 43 percent use OS X as their main OS, whereas the PC users interviewed used Windows 98 and Windows Millennium Edition at home. Internet use was so prevalent, it was mentioned only as an afterthought, or only after I specifically asked about it. These days, Internet use has become so natural, it is understood that computer use includes Internet use—no wonder, if you consider that half of all American households own a computer.
Other areas of computer use ran the gamut of word processing and spreadsheets, scanning and photo editing, gaming, and finances, to less common applications like video editing, genealogy, and programming. In essence, people emphasized that they appreciate how their computer gets their work done, and with less hassle than otherwise, if you catch my drift.
Considering the community feeling that the retail store opening engendered, it was interesting to note that only one out of seven users interviewed was a member of a user group. Personally, I think this is where Apple has a huge potential waiting to be harvested. Thousands of people are spending time evangelizing Apple in their own way, volunteering at the local CompUSA Apple store-within-a-store, serving as Apple demo reps, writing online articles, taking pictures, making movies, and more. What if Apple added some structure to all of this? What if Apple took a little bit of that cash it has in reserve and helped buyers of Apple hard- and software to connect to a user group really easily? How? Well, what if Apple included a coupon for a free one year membership in the local Mac user group? Apple would get a break on membership costs, and the local Mac user group would benefit from a stronger and more diverse membership. Looks like a perfect marketing opportunity to me to put into action the slogan regarding Apple’s market share, advertised so visibly now in all Apple stores:
“Five down, 95 to go.”
Which prompts me to paraphrase another marketing slogan:
“Just do it, Apple.”
Happy shopping, Cheerio, Dierk
Also in This Series
- Interview With a New User · December 2001
- Visitors at the Apple Retail Store · November 2001
- Housekeeping · October 2001
- Organized Mobility—Mobile Connectivity—Connected Organizer · September 2001
- …Hoelle des Nordens von Roubaix, Tour de France, Tour de France… · August 2001
- With the Stroke of a Pen · July 2001
- FileMaker Pro Templates Overview and Tutorial · June 2001
- Complete Archive