SANTA MONICA, Calif.—With a massive remodel program underway for current Apple Stores, the iPhone maker is set on remaking retail into a place that puts education and community first, and sales second.
What Apple refers to as one of its “flagship” locations, the large store near the Pacific Ocean — and a gathering place for local actors, filmmakers and the millions of tourists who visit yearly — reopens Saturday, after several weeks of a major remodel. Apple says its one-third of the way into remodeling or making over its 100 flagship stores, and using a new store design for new locations.
While the idea is to bring in customers and get them hooked on Apple products, Angela Ahrendts, the company’s senior vice-president of retail, says she wants the stores to act as “gathering spaces, where people can come in, get service and support and learn about everything they would do on their devices.”
Gene Munster, an analyst and investor with Loup Ventures, calls the Apple Stores the company’s most “under-appreciated competitive advantage,” over rivals.
“No other tech company has Apple’s base of 65,000 retail employees delivering face-to-face advice, support, and experiences,” he says. “Microsoft comes in second with about 6,000 retail employees.”
Microsoft also has a retail store to show off its products, with just under 100 locations.
Clearly, the approach is paying off for Apple, which raised prices on nearly every product line in 2018, bringing the top of the line iPhone to a starting price of $1,100 ($100 more than last year) and, for the first time, selling an iPad that starts at $1,000.
Apple competes with many companies, mostly notably at retail with device makers like Samsung and Google, who make rival smartphones.
“Apple is able to sell through discovery,” says Munster. “This is how to sell technology today, offering something more than just a place to look and buy, but instead an experience.”
Apple hasn’t specified how much it’s spending on the upgrades. The store concept began in 2001 at a time when Microsoft dominated computer usage, and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said retail did a poor job of showing his products.
Today, there are over 500 Apple Stores globally. Besides the remodeled Santa Monica location, Apple also opened a new store on the historic Champs-Élysées this weekend as well.
Ahrendts says the older stores really needed to be updated, as Apple has so many more product lines now. (Originally, it was just computers and iPods.)
The flagship stores are broken into three areas:
—Avenues: This is where Apple devotes product selection to themed areas, like photography and health, and where customers can go hands-on time with them.
—The Grove: Trees are imported and are a visual to bring customers to the newly renamed “Genius Grove,” where more product specialists will be available to help with support, Apple says. Customers still need to make reservations via the Apple Store smartphone app, although walk-ins can try their luck, usually right when the store opens.
—The Forum: This is where Apple stages its daily, free “Today at Apple” seminars, devoted to photography, art, computer coding and the like. The list of classes is available on the Apple Store app. Customers can’t miss it–the Forum is flanked by a giant video screen at the back of the store.