The Apple Store, Then and Now

I spent a good portion of last Saturday evening and parts of Sunday with my new iPad 2. This is my first iOS device – I’ve never owned an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad before. Here are some of my observations from the retail experience, to initial configuration, and actual use. This is the first part and deals with the Apple Store itself.

I remember taking my son to the Fashion Valley Apple Store right after it opened. He was a baby. He’ll turn 10 this year.

Back then, the Apple Store stood in defiance of established retail experience, from the interior design, staffing, product placement, training, etc. While it caught the attention of many, most people didn’t use Apple products. When shopping the Apple store, the following were true:

  1. The store was rarely crowded except at special events or right before holidays.
  2. The ratio of staff to customers was sometimes absurd – two or three employees to help a customer.
  3. The demographics of the shoppers rarely drifted from the old stereotypes: hipsters (artists/musicians/designers), geeks, and the occasional “normal” person considering their first Mac purchase asking questions like, “Will I still be able to use email on a Mac?” and “Does Microsoft Office work on the Mac?”

I was in the Apple Store on Saturday to pick up my iPad, and on Sunday (my wife’s 5 year-old Macbook was dying, she’s working on a major research paper, and it was Mother’s Day). Here is what I noticed:

  1. The store was pretty busy and is about 2-3 times bigger than the original space.
  2. There were what seemed like 2 dozen staffers. Despite that, I had to sign up on a waiting list to be helped. It didn’t take long, but was surprising.
  3. The demographics was startling – it really looked like a cross section of all walks of life. Young and old, rich and poor, luddites and geeks.

Apple was considered a luxury brand years ago. The computers were more expensive to buy than their PC counterparts (although I’ve always argued that the Total Cost of Ownership, or TCO, has always been less for Macs). When Apple responded to comments about market share, they often cited the fact Apple had more of a share in the computer market, than what BMW and Mercedes had combined in the automotive industry.

Apple is no longer a luxury brand. Their products are for the everyman. (That is “man” as in mankind not as in gender.) I would guess that a majority of people own or use at least one Apple product.

Is it better or worse? I can’t say for sure. A trip to the Apple Store used to be an event unto itself and I would spend an average of an hour there. I would move throughout the store and spend time looking at each of the new products. I browsed the accessories, curious more at what Apple excluded, rather than chose to stock. As crowded as the Apple Store is, I only go there when I already know what I’m looking for – usually only to make a purchase. I don’t ask the staff questions, as they don’t seem to be cut from the same stock as the retail staff used to be. In fact, my father was in the Apple Store last week, and one of the associates told him that the company prefers to hire former Starbucks employees because, “they understand exactness when it comes to customer orders.”

When I traded in my Jeep Commander for a less expensive and more fuel-efficient car recently, I decided against placing an Apple sticker on the back window. This is the first car I’ve driven in over 10 years that didn’t have an Apple sticker on it. Perhaps “Think Different” doesn’t apply any more…