Apple has had its chain of retail stores instilling the magic of technology into its shoppers since the first stores opened in 2001. I personally can’t imagine that anyone has never heard of or been to an Apple Store, but if you haven’t here is the idea: The Apple Store sells all current Apple products and devices along with a collection of third party accessories. The stores’ appearances can vary slightly, but the essential design layout is the same – grey walls, grey ceilings, a grey floor, and modern style wood tables to display product. Over the last decade, these stores and the products within had been praised for their simple yet alluring design. In addition, Apple has had a few stores that use glass as a primary base in their construction, such as the Boston store which features a glass spiral staircase.
While the design has held up well, it is time to question whether or not Apple Stores will need to evolve to challenge the opening of its competitors’ locations, like the newly opened Microsoft Stores. In 2009, Microsoft decided that it had to jump in the retail store game and began building a new shopping experience. Without a doubt, the stores Microsoft opened are based on the Apple Store concept, with its own twist.
Microsoft Stores are fewer in numbers, so it is more probable you haven’t stepped into one. Here is the idea: The Microsoft store sells a variety of flagship products from HP, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, and Sony alongside flagship Windows Phones and Microsoft’s own hardware creations such as the Surface and the Xbox 360 with Kinect. The stores all follow the same appearance – bright white walls and ceilings, light wood floors, and dark modern style tables with pull out seating. The entire store is wrapped in barrage of brightly lit and animated LCD displays; some of which allow consumers to experience various Xbox 360 and Kinect devices.
Each company store has its own personal experience and feel that match their general product style. While the Apple store is grey and modern feeling, the Microsoft store is bright and adventurous. As a proud Microsoft fan, you might think that I am instantly drawn to its company stores. While you aren’t wrong, you might not guess that I also love visiting the Apple Store. Whenever I stop by the local mall I make sure to pay the Apple Store a visit and play around with all of Apple’s latest goodies. Since the introduction of the Microsoft Store though, the magic of Apple feels slightly drained. Something that not many people know is that I once owned a few Macbook Pros and iPhones years back – I was a hardcore Apple user (and semi fanboy).
So, what can Apple do to improve the experience? This could be looked at from two angles: the first is to leverage more technology in store to display its products. Apple has widely been held as a champion of marketing, with its beautiful commercials focusing on product experience – let’s bring this magic into the store and surround the customer with modern displays. Even fast food places like Burger King have begun replacing static paper displays with vivid LCD monitors. Apple has a lot of great products, but its stores seem to serve as a simple display and no longer a magical experience of technology as it previously had. Another idea would be to put focus on iPods and music, as its famous MP3 players just sit on IKEA style tables waiting to be picked up – but they don’t beg to be.
Another angle is to look at Apple products themselves. The store is a reflection of the product, so maybe it is time to revamp the conceptualization of its product design. When Apple released the original iMac G3 series machines, they captured the world with their bright colors. What has happened since then – has Apple lost its color palette? The only bright colored products you will find within the Apple store are the iPods – Macintosh computers, iPhones, and iPods remain bland. As Microsoft and other companies have shown, there is clearly a market for “colorful tech.”
What do you think – are Apple Stores fine the way they are or does the experience need to play catch up with its competition?