In a new interview with Vogue Business this week, Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts has talked about Apple’s approach to “experiential” retail. Namely, Ahrendts discussed Apple’s ongoing expansion of Today at Apple sessions, which transform the company’s retail stores into communal spaces for classes, how-to sessions, photo tours, and more.
Inside the new Apple retail location in Washington, D.C. via Amy Harrity/Vogue Business
The interview took place near Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C., where Apple’s next major retail store will open soon. Ahrendts explained that the location will become a community hub for the area, including field trips for local schools and off-site walking tours of the nearby sites in Washington, D.C., teaching attendees how to capture the best photos on iPhone or sketch landmarks on iPad.
Ahrendts remarked that Apple’s goal is to continue the vision for retail that began with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
“Steve told the teams when he opened retail 18 years ago, ‘Your job is not to sell, your job is to enrich their lives and always through the lens of education.’”
“I think as humans we still need gathering places,” Ahrendts says. “And when you are serving digital natives, the thing they long for more than anything is human connection. Eye contact.”
To manage an employee network of 70,000 people, each retail worker starts their day using an app called Hello, including briefings on important matters for the day with videos from Ahrendts and her team. There’s also a partner app, Loop, that acts as an internal social network for staff members.
The retail chief said this internal communication between Apple and its retail employees is critical, and what’s missing from a lot of other brands.
“We use auto-translate and everybody in the world can see what Tom in Regent Street is doing. It’s a huge unlock, just getting all the stores to talk to one another.”
“Many retailers have become so big they’re removed from their own employees. They are lucky if they keep more than 20 per cent every year. We keep nearly 90 per cent of our full-time employees. We moved 20 per cent of the people in retail last year – they got promoted, took on new positions.”
This Spring will mark the two year anniversary of Today at Apple sessions, which began expanding worldwide in May 2017. Ahrendts spearheaded the launch, kicking off the transformation of traditional Apple retail stores into “modern-day town squares” and hubs of education. Before the debut of Today at Apple, the company hinted at its upcoming retail changes by dropping the word “Store” from the Apple Store branding.
In the article, Vogue Business pointed out that since 2017 nearly 10,000 brick-and-mortar stores in the United States have closed, and analysts predict one in four U.S. malls will be out of business by 2022. Ahrendts explained that Apple’s approach is “very different…from traditional retailers,” because the company focuses on the effect of its branding on customers over profitability.
“One of the things we’ve had to do at Apple is to stop looking at everything on a linear basis,” she said. “You can’t just look at the profitability of one store or the profitability of one app or the online business. You have to put it all together: one customer, one brand.” According to Ahrendts, “The tragedy in retail” for other brands is that they are too focused on numbers instead of focusing on and investing in their own employees, “and in that environment, big isn’t always good.”
You can check out the rest of the Vogue Business interview right here.
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