More than just a brand

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If you follow retail and / or technology, it will not have escaped you that earlier this month, Apple reopened its store on London’s Regent Street. I say store but perhaps the term doesn’t quite do it justice. Rather than seeing it prior to opening, devoid of any customers, I went along a few days afterwards to see what all the fuss was about – armed naturally with my (preferred) Samsung android phone.

First, I should say that I’m not an Apple fan, I just have a natural aversion to the brand; but that doesn’t prevent me from admiring what the computer company has achieved. And Regent Street is the embodiment of that.

What struck me first was not the fabric of the building nor the sheer numbers of people in the store – rather it was what they were doing, or more accurately not doing – which caught my attention. It was more like some sort of convention or networking event. People were standing, sitting, casting their eyes over the latest iPhone, chatting informally with store staff but most of all they seemed to simply enjoy being there.

And then it dawned on me; this wasn’t a shop at all. Yes you could make purchases and carry goods away with you but this was something more, much more than an ordinary store – this was a shrine, a mecca – a cathedral to all things Apple!

OK, so the trees and the bare tables might not be to everyone’s taste and the stools at one end may remind us of primary school as opposed to being an environment in which to part with our hard earned cash but none of this seemed to detract for the faithful.

“Apple understand their Why, they understand why they are in business, they understand what they stand for and the new Regents Street store oozes their Why”

This was where they came to gaze, to enquire, to seek help, to handle, to share, to admire – to be amongst like minded people – this was where people came to honour and revere the brand. Even the layout could be likened to a religious place with tall pillars either side, seating by which to simply come and sit and contemplate and the huge screen at one end admirably mimicked the high alter, drawing in the masses.

As the much admired author and TED speaker Simon Sinek put it in his book ‘Start With Why’, Apple understand their Why, they understand why they are in business, they understand what they stand for and the new Regents Street store oozes their Why.

For a confirmed android user it was all pretty amazing but the message behind it is very clear. Retail brands now more than ever before need to create an experience if people are to visit their stores in numbers again and again. Millennials seek experiences as opposed to simply shopping. They want to be inspired. They want their lives to be enriched. They seek added value in some way or other.

Like it or not, Apple delivers this – and that is why the store should attract many more people – to gaze and simply wonder at what a great in-store experience really looks and feels like.

Andrew Busby is founder of Retail Reflections & The Retail Advisory Board

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