Apple’s Retail Store Lesson: Connect with Customer

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When Apple launched its chain of retail stores, most analysts predicted doom and gloom. Instead, Apple is teaching the rest of the industry, including Sony, how to do retail right: Connect with the customer.

Randall Stross of the New York Times went shopping in San Francisco. First he visited Sonyis flagship store, the Metreon. While the mall outside was crowded, Sonyis store itself was "all but deserted. The two uniformed members of the store security staff matched the number of customers I could see browsing the store?s wares."

The author found the same absence of customers at Sonyis Style store in Palo Alto, where it was, oddly, hard to get anyoneis attention. Not far away was Appleis store. Mr. Stross wrote, "The store was packed, yet the sales people were alert and attentive."

The secret has been more than Appleis fanatic attention to detail in the design of the stores. "... in 2000 and 2001, Mr. Jobs took on a more ambitious challenge than building freestanding museums of design that would show the Apple flag and do little else," the author noted. "He [Jobs] set out to create the conditions most likely to convert museum visitors into actual customers, and then to make those customers feel that they were being pampered long after the sale was consummated."

Apple did something else important, the company made sure the customer could go home with the product. Steve Jobs told the Chain Store Age Executive magazine in 2001, "When I bring something home to the kids, I want to get the smile. I don?t want the U.P.S. guy to get the smile."

Apple Stores are designed to move goods, and this stands in contrast with Sonyis boutique stores, according to Willard Ander, a senior partner at McMillan Doolittle in Chicago.

"Sony doesn?t get retail," Mr. Ander said. "The stores are not energized and not shop-able. [Apple stores extend an] emotional connection to their customers that Sony?s do not."

Thatis why retail, so hard for every other PC maker, is ridiculously easy for Apple.

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