Cupertino (California): Rarely in the spotlight, Apple-branded retail stores have left an indelible impression on a million hearts worldwide. For Indians, who have a constant yearning to be "delighted" right in their neighbourhood, Apple stores are iconic tourist spots, to be visited while holidaying abroad.
Apple is expanding its retail footprint at a time when almost everything is being traded online, for a simple reason that Apple CEO Tim Cook -- and late Steve Jobs -- never looked at physical sales points as mere brick and mortar stores but places where Apple customers can get personalized attention by a warm and professional staff.
The Apple retail philosophy has been not to sell products but rather solve customers' queries on their purchase journey – delighting them with captivating open spaces, indoor trees, uniquely-designed sitting areas and large screens for marketing as well as developers and community events.
The company is now exploring places of historical significance, revitalising those while keeping their soul intact -- like the historic Carnegie Library, a 1903 Beaux-Arts building at Mount Vernon Square in Washington, DC or Apple Champs-Elysees housed in a Haussmann-era apartment building in Paris.
From opening the doors of its first-ever store in the US on May 15 in 2001 to reopening its largest-ever Fifth Avenue store in New York in more than a week from now on September 20 -- the same day when people will make a beeline for new iPhones -- Apple has transformed physical spaces at over 500 locations globally into fruitful customer-staff exchanges.
Cook, in his keynote address during the flagship launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater on Tuesday, emphasized that Apple retail stores are the backbone for the company.
"I am so proud of our retail team and the unique experiences they deliver to our customers every day. They are amazing," he told the gathering, after formally introducing on stage Deirdre O'Brien, Apple's Senior Vice President of Retail + People who took over from Angela Ahrendts in April this year.
"The customer truly is at the centre of everything that we do. Thanks to our passionate team, there really is no better place to see this in action than in our stores. We'd love to share two ways we're making the experience even better -- personalization and trade-ins," added Deirdre.
Customers can now personalize Apple Watch at stores. With Apple Watch Series 5, the company has announced "Apple Watch Studio" where people can choose and pair any case with any band to create exactly the Watch they want.
"The ‘Apple Watch Studio' experience is available in our stores, and online. There are nearly 1,000 different ways to represent your own personal style," said Deirdre.
Apple last month opened registration for a series of new art-based "Today at Apple" augmented reality (AR) experiences -- called [AR]T -- offered at its stores around the world.
The sessions include an interactive walk featuring works by some of the world's premier contemporary artists, an in-store session that teaches the basics of creating AR using Swift Playgrounds and an AR art installation viewable in every store worldwide.
As Apple bumps up its plans to open more stores, India appeared on its global map last month, with the company saying it looks forward to welcoming customers at its first branded retail store in the country soon.
Welcoming the government's decision to ease the 30 per cent local sourcing norm in single-brand retail (SBRT), Apple said: "We appreciate the support and hard work by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team to make this possible and we look forward to one day welcoming customers to India's first Apple retail store".
It will take some time for Apple to unveil its first branded store in the country as the location has not yet been decided.
"Apple is known for its retail stores, the experience they provide in terms of purchase, staff knowledge and other services. Considering the importance of offline as a channel in a diverse country like India, where consumers love to touch, feel and experience the products, the stores are a very important touch-point for any consumer company," Navkendar Singh, Research Director, IDC India, told IANS.
"The plan for opening owned stores will certainly help Apple in giving a controlled experience of its devices and services as it intends and designed them to be. In a third-party retail environment, many such things cannot be controlled by the brand. This will only add to the strong premium positioning Apple enjoys in the country," Singh added.
Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research, said the government's move will help Apple scale up its retail operations quickly and bring more investments in the country.
Though we do not yet buy iPhones or other Apple products the way Europeans or people in South East Asian countries do, the desire to visit a true Apple-branded retail store for a personalized encounter is growing among the aspirational millennials and Gen Z in India, which will automatically push sales.
India has no dearth of historically and culturally-rich places for a store location and this must "delight" Apple.
BY NISHANT ARORA
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