Did Apple Just Re-re-invent Retail?

Did you think the iPhone X was the biggest thing in Apple’s most recent Special Event? Think again. The first 22 minutes of the event focused on Apple’s largest, most important product: its retail stores.


Consider the 6-minute introduction focused on the Steve Jobs Theater, followed by Tim Cook’s discussion of Apple’s new headquarters, Apple Park. He describes Apple Park as the place where Steve Jobs’ spirit lives on, where Apple’s engineers and designers gather to create and collaborate. The preamble ends a full 14 minutes into the event with a description of Apple Park’s visitor center, which includes an augmented reality experience and a new retail store. He then transitions to Angela Ahrendts, who provides an update on Apple Retail.


It’s no accident that the Retail Update holds the premium time slot of first on the agenda. Ms. Ahrendts’ first point is that the designers of Apple Park are the same people who design for Apple Retail. The new Apple Retail experience will reflect that of Apple Park, and Apple Retail is Apple’s largest product, the place where Apple can humanize its technology through personal connections, enabling customers to learn, connect, and become inspired. Steve Jobs’ vision of full product integration lives on in the physical sense: Apple’s retail stores will be an extension of its headquarters, providing a fully integrated customer experience.

Apple’s new store designs will take the customer experience to a new level. They will include plazas where customers can meet up with friends, relax, watch movies, or listen to local artists. They will include forums for customers inside to create and collaborate, including board rooms where developers and entrepreneurs can learn from Apple teams or share with each other. They will include presentation areas where Apple will provide technical and creative training, including teachers’ Tuesdays where Apple will keep local educators informed of how best to use Apple products.

Apple stores will no longer be stores. Ms. Ahrendts dubs them “town squares.” They will be venues placed in the busiest locations in the largest cities around the world. They will be places where people gather socially, consume entertainment, browse new products, and learn how to use them, and places where consumers can live the Apple experience the way employees do in Apple Park. It is all inspired by Steve Jobs’ vision that Apple exists to show appreciation to humanity by creating and sharing great things. This is an undoubtedly transformative approach to retail, one designed to make Apple central not only to consumers’ digital lives but also to their physical ones.

While Apple is a key enabler for Amazon, the company that is most disrupting retail, it is also providing the blueprint for how retailers can fight back: by creating an immersive physical customer experience that includes but far exceeds anything that digital services can provide. Amazon has a similar vision in mind. Whole Foods was already a clear leader in experiential grocery shopping, and in combination with Amazon, it can accomplish much more. A new retail transformation is upon us, and Amazon and Apple are at the helm.

If you’re a bank or payments company, it’s time to get with the program. Not only will payments be dramatically affected by a retail transformation, but it’s also only a matter of time before your company falls directly in the crosshairs of innovative and tech-savvy product companies capable of doing to you what Apple and Amazon have been doing to Wal-Mart and its retail counterparts.


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