I’ve been a huge fan of Apple computers since I first started drinking the “Cupertino Cool-aid” back in college, but it’s only been since the company launched its retail stores that I completely bought into the Cult of Jobs. The App Store. OS X. iMacs. iPhones. iPads. I’m hooked.
Every time I have to stop by the Apple store for something, I’m not-so-subtly reminded just how great a retail experience can be. Apple’s customer service is now the standard to which I hold all other retailers, from powersports to gardening supplies, and most of them fail. (Trader Joe’s is the only other major exception.)
Like many budding curmudgeons, I find myself having less and less patience for poor customer service and rude or indifferent employees. I don’t expect to be pampered, and I know some retail stores by design cannot match Apple’s example, but how about offering just a smidgeon of help, with a smile? Owners and management, shouldn’t your personnel training be geared toward making your customers comfortable, maybe even happy, about spending their money with you? This doesn’t always seem the case.
Apple seems to have perfected the art of retail. Never in the history of spending money to buy goods has a company made it so effortless and downright enjoyable to spend money to buy goods.
And this is where Apple intersects with the powersports business.
There was a story in The Wall Street Journal in June talking about the success — and recipe behind it — of Apple’s retail stores. The story reports some incredible numbers: Apple’s annual retail sales per sq. ft. are $4,406 (minus online sales), and its 326 stores brought in more customers in a single quarter than the 60 million people who visited Disney’s four biggest theme parks in 2010.
An obvious aspect of this success, the story says, is the must-have clamor for Apple’s popular products. Seems these are items that people absolutely want to have. After all, does anybody really need an iPad? Likely a few, but everybody wants one.
The other instrument of this success, according to WSJ reporters Yukari Iwatani Kane and Ian Sherr, is that Apple is on the leading edge of customer service and store design. Jobs and company grenaded the idea of what an electronics store should be (think back to the days of CompUSA) and pioneered what would become the Apple layout.
A major point: Products are staged to highlight how they could be used, not just stacked on a shelf or hung from a hook.
A second major point: Sales workers are extensively trained not to sell, but to “help customers solve problems” by understanding their needs, even the ones they don’t know they have. They’re schooled on Apple’s principles of customer service and must shadow experienced employees before they’re even allowed to interact with customers. Even the hiring process is selective, often requiring two rounds of interviews with potential employees quizzed about their skills and passion for Apple’s products.
As the reporters point out, specialty retailers like Apple often invest heavily in training. What makes Apple different is that its employees are passionate about the company’s products and are willing to learn.
Hmm … let’s see, what other industry has retail stores whose employees are enthusiasts of its products, and are selling these same products to customers who are just as enthusiastic? And which industry is selling items that are more want than need to people who really, really want them?
Can’t quite get a bead on it right now, but I’m guessing it’s one that’s not exactly steeped in best retail practices and could stand to learn a thing or two from one that is.
Thinking, thinking, thinking …
Editor in Chief