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BLOG: Why Apple really, really doesn't need a shopkeeper to lead its retail chain

Jonny Evans | July 8, 2013
What Apple needs to run its retail stores is a brand evangelist instead of a shopkeeper.

That's a really important point: the intention is that retail store customers are as empowered by their shopping experience as they are by the products they may eventually choose. Apple's retail stores are as much an expression of the user experience as are iOS and OS X.

Apple retail store staff are brand ambassadors.

Their primary function is not sales but to explain the intrinsic meaning of Apple to store visitors, and to figure out which (if any) Apple product might improve a customer's life.

Product sales are secondary to the importance of ensuring good customer experience.

I once spoke with Apple's lead architect, Peter Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. He told me:

"This is really about people, more than things. Steve has always said he sees himself as at the nexus of technology and art, and I would add, people. We are at the point where technology, art and people meet."

The strategy undoubtedly works. The most successful high street stores in the world, Apple retail stores attract millions of visitors every day and account for a huge slice of company sales — while offering only a handful of products.

The new temple
Customers relate to these temples of the brand. Perhaps this is because they are given choices, perhaps also because they are not expected to purchase anything when they enter these places. (The biggest complaint I get from friends who visit Apple stores is the difficulty they have trying to find someone to purchase products from).

Apple retail focuses on the brand, its products and — most important — the relationship with the customer; it's almost a complete reversal of the standard paradigm of retail sales.

There's a problem.

Apple retail currently lacks a defined leader. While store leaders and Tim Cook's team are holding retail together, this is bad for staff morale. The vacuum at the top means everyday decisions that need to be taken fast are being ignored, taken on the fly, or taken by committee. This is bad for staff retention as employees are human and sometimes need decisions fast. It also makes strategic execution that much more difficult.

The challenge Apple must be having as it seeks a store leader is fundamental. Apple needs to find a strong manager in whom sits an almost visceral understanding of the nature and meaning of the brand.

The company needs a visionary evangelist to lead its retail chain. It needs a leader who is both inspired by Apple's technological significance and who understands the value of the company's user-centric philosophy. They must care about customers, value store staff and be able to lead, motivate and inspire.


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