Steve Jobs is famous for a lot of radical ideas and innovations, but one of the most significant has to be his contribution to the retail consumer experience. He is remembered as the leading light at Apple, still one of the most successful and valuable companies on the planet.
But, when looking beyond the phones, tablets, and computers and observing the experience of purchasing and owning the devices, it is then that the magic and power of the relationship retailing comes to light.
One of Jobs’ most famous comments, circa 1997, relating to how the iPod music player came about, was that “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
Even before it is activated, Apple’s iPhone is an experiential marvel. It arrives in a perfect box that is a work of packaging brilliance. The texture, weight, and mechanics of that box hint at the sensory comfort and ease-of-use of the phone itself. Some design team put serious thought into the materials and assembly of this item – something that many other manufacturers would dismiss as merely a box. It would not be an overstatement to say this box delivers a haptic experience that contributes enormously to the overall enjoyment of the purchase. Steve Jobs would not have had it any other way.
Expand this concept out to the world of brick-and-mortar. You can see the same experiential ideas built into the physical Apple stores, whose layouts eliminate traditional elements of retail stores like cash registers and physical shopping carts. Apple has removed an entire middle layer of the retail experience, one that is quickly turning into dead weight in stores as shoppers become more mobile. Apple has shortened the path from discovery to checkout while enhancing the experience.
Take this one level higher and observe the sales associates, all of whom seem to be dedicated enthusiasts of Apple products, and who act as assistant, expert, and cash point. There is no checkout. There is no definite finality to the store. Customers just enter, and then they have an experience. Even the store’s famous approach to service via appointment demonstrates the intimate connection between customer, technology and the store.
Not every store needs to emulate the clean, bright lines of Apple, but retailers everywhere should take note of how this particular flagship redefines the retail experience. Obviously, the Apple store sells its company's own products, but it would be easy to imagine an offshoot of the Apple Corporation dedicated solely to designing retail experiences for stores of all types, ranging from home hardware to apparel, and anything else in between.
Car dealerships, for example, have already gone down this path. Although showrooms have always been glossy and well lighted to showcase brand-new vehicles at their best, some car brands have moved this experience into the service bays, using clean and innovative technologies to diagnose their customers' cars with minimal intrusion and maximum visual and aesthetic impact. It would even be possible to eat off the floors of those garages, they are that clean and that organized.
A critical route to defining the best retail experience is through the adoption of technology that either makes existing shopping excursions better, or that provides new ones. For a brand that is driven mostly by discounts, this might be about enabling a monetary type of reward. For others, it might be through an app that delivers early or exclusive access to a sale.
The incentive and the pleasure principle should always be related to what that brand is about. The most interesting element is to deliver new types of information, elicit engagement, and develop new relationships in ways that could not have been done without the technology. When you look at what people want from retailers, it is not just discounts, it’s other value-adds in their lives, such as content or experiences.
This is the relationship retailing in action. In an age where so much can be purchased online, the aesthetic pleasure of a well-planned, technologically integrated store makes the price and the effort worthwhile.
Take part in our 30-minute webinar where Phil Granof, CMO, NewStore will discuss why empowering your brand ambassadors (aka store associates) with mobile is what's missing in your relationship retailing strategy.