How Apple is changing retailing

Apple: America’s best retailer (from CNN Money via Signal vs. Noise) is a wonderful article about the Apple store. Here’s the beginning:

“Sorry Steve, Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work,” BusinessWeek wrote with great certainty in 2001. “It’s desperation time in Cupertino, Calif.,” opined TheStreet.com. “I give [Apple] two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” predicted retail consultant David Goldstein.

Yet five years later, at 4:15 A.M., a light flickered on. Onlookers were bathed in the milky-white glow of the Apple logo, suspended in a freestanding cube of glass at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South in Manhattan. Dazzling in clarity and 32 feet on a side, the structure was likened variously to a temple, the Louvre Pyramid, Apple’s G4 “Cube” computer, a giant button, and even – in the words of NBC’s Brian Williams – Steve Jobs’ Model T. But it was, everyone could agree, manifestly a store.

You can also check out some pictures here. The store has something called a Genius Bar and here’s how that came about:

“When we launched retail, I got this group together, people from a variety of walks of life,” says Johnson. “As an icebreaker, we said, ‘Tell us about the best service experience you’ve ever had.'” Of the 18 people, 16 said it was in a hotel. This was unexpected. But of course: The concierge desk at a hotel isn’t selling anything; it’s there to help. “We said, ‘Well, how do we create a store that has the friendliness of a Four Seasons Hotel?'” The answer: “Let’s put a bar in our stores. But instead of dispensing alcohol, we dispense advice.”

Brilliant stuff. And the numbers are staggering:

Saks, whose flagship is down the street, generates sales of $362 per square foot a year. Best Buy (Charts) stores turn $930 – tops for electronics retailers – while Tiffany & Co. (Charts) takes in $2,666. Audrey Hepburn liked Tiffany’s for breakfast. But at $4,032, Apple is eating everyone’s lunch.

That astonishing number, from a Sanford C. Bernstein report, is merely the average of Apple’s 174 stores, which attract 13,800 visitors a week. (The Fifth Avenue store averages 50,000-plus.) In 2004, Apple reached $1 billion in annual sales faster than any retailer in history; last year, sales reached $1 billion a quarter.

Love him or hate him, you have to give credit to Steve Jobs and his team at Apple. They have a knack for “kicking things up a notch”, as Emeril would say.

For your convenience, here’s the link once again: Apple: America’s best retailer .

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