Apple Reimagines the Retail Experience through Human Connection

Focusing on human behavior has always been key for a business to succeed, and this is no different in retail, where consumers have multiple reasons and ways to purchase a product or service – this could be a spontaneous reaction to an Instagram post, or following months of researching and analyzing online, over the phone or in-store.  At OMD, our concept of Agile Commerce recognizes that the retail experience needs to flex to consumer needs and should not be put in a silo; understanding a consumer’s relationship with a brand or product, through the use of data and an end-to-end planning process, means we can design an experience that meets their individual expectations, every single time. And this principle of delivering an experience has always been at the very core of Apple’s vision, values & ambition.  Under the new leadership of Angela Ahrendt, Apple Retail is completely reinventing itself through an even greater commitment to human connection, inspiring learning and unlocking creativity.

For Apple, retail is solely about delivering a human experience. Their employees are not termed salespeople, and they are not allowed to ‘sell’. Hired on their empathetic abilities and tasked with delivering greater human connection, it’s the impact they have which counts; in Apple speak, they are an important part of the software and the biggest differentiator. It’s clear to see that Apple feels a huge responsibility in humanizing tech, and the role it has to play across the arts and humanities.  So, in an effort to get shoppers into their stores for reasons other than to make a purchase or visit the Genius bar, a year ago they launched an initiative called ‘Today at Apple’ across all 495 stores. Originally code named IOS Live, it was idea born long ago, to craft a program featuring hands-on sessions on such topics as photography, music, art, design and coding.  Now delivering 18k sessions every single week, with 1m+ kids been taught to code, all of their classes are led by highly-trained team members, and, in select cities, world-class artists, photographers and musicians.

At the heart of every Apple Store, is the desire to educate and inspire the communities they serve, and Angela talks about how the store itself represents the hardware, while product and the human experiences within have become the software.  ‘Today at Apple’ is their approach to evolving this experience to better serve local customers and entrepreneurs.  The concept is one of creating a modern-day town square, where everyone is welcome in a space where the best of Apple comes together, to connect with one another, discover a new passion, or simply to take their skill to the next level.

Angela believes that creativity is not driven by data, it’s an instinct, vision, or idea which data can validate and she is passionate about bringing this to life through the retail space.  The greatest challenge she faced was in actually unlocking the value of their hardware (stores), and turning it on with a human side.  A complete redesign was therefore critical to Apple remaining true to its goals, and covered everything from the materials used, the volume of footprint dedicated to creating an experience in each store, and bringing the outside in through the significant use of glass & 30ft trees! Continuing to work closely with individual cities, Apple Retail has opened further concept stores in Chicago, Dubai and London which positively impact the communities around, with launches in Milan and Paris planned for later in the year, along with the renovation of the historic and near derelict Carnegie Library in Washington, in which Apple aims to make learning and inspiration accessible to all.

One year on, how are they measuring the success of the initiative? Well, their measurement framework is…you guessed it….human-based.  Success for them is if they are succeeding in enriching peoples’ lives, by measuring how they made you feel.  They crowd source internally with 70k team members to identify opportunities and initiatives at local levels, and engage with external partners to help them understand the biggest influences.   Loop, their internal staff social platform, keeps them all connected and ensures everyone has a voice.

As the largest tech company, Apple is fully committed to making the largest investment in humans.  They are using data to make themselves better, to deliver on their self-proclaimed human responsibility in retail. It’s clear to see the role stores play in the community is so important to them.  The challenge they now face, is how to scale the human impact & how to do it digitally.