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As Steve Jobs steps down as Apple CEO, it’s hard to get a grip on his monumental legacy. Everyone points out that he revolutionised (or created) more industries than perhaps any entrepreneur since Thomas Edison.So much so that it’s easy to overlook one of his more astonishing successes: retail.
Apple did revolutionise the retail industry. And it’s in a way one of its most stunning successes: after all, you’d expect an innovative consumer technology company to innovate in the consumer technology space, not in boring, old-fashioned bricks and mortar.
And yet, that’s what Apple did. Apple’s stores are better run and more profitable than for most companies whose core competency is retail.
Apple’s retail strategy wasn’t just good for Apple, it was good for the entire industry. And now the retail industry is turning to Apple executives to shape itself up.
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Apple’s values have carried over tremendously well into the retail space:
- The more pleasant a store is, the more people will buy. This is perhaps the most important insight, and though it seems commonsensical, it actually turns the retail industry on its head. The conventional wisdom in retail is that the more full your shelves are, the more things you show to people to buy, the more they’ll buy. Apple stores work the other way around: first, make your stores places people want to go to, and then they’ll come more often and buy more often. This is particularly true in the internet era. The internet beats bricks and mortar hands down on convenience, price and selection. Retail needs to give people reasons to come.
- Don’t skimp. Retail is a brutal industry with tough margins. A great way to boost the bottom line in the short term is to cut costs. Apple didn’t do that. It bought the best space, and obviously invested tremendously into making its stores beautiful, but that philosophy extends further. Apple invests in hiring, training and retaining great salespeople. In most stores, the people who are there would rather be doing anything else and are clearly just collecting a paycheck. In an Apple store, you know the people you’ll meet will be friendly and knowledgeable. Other companies, like Starbucks, also do this, but Apple has been best at it.
- Services are important. Everyone knows about the Genius Bar. But each Apple store also has tons of other services, like classes on Mac products and Mac software, on how to edit videos and make photo slideshows. In a way, this is more about community building than just upselling people on stuff. Again, this is something plenty of companies do, or pay lip service to, but Apple has been the best at it.
- Relentless customer focus. At the end of the day, everything Apple does is about making life easier for the end user. That carries over to retail. No long checkout lines. Friendly staff. Beautiful spaces. Starting and ending with the consumer, not channel partners or the bottomline, is what made Apple so successful in retail.