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The Design of Apple Retail Stores

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 06:39 AM

So yesterday, there I was back at the Apple store while a co-worker of mine lamented about weather or not he should get a 17" MacBook Pro (that bastard!). While dazing off at an iPod accessory, I suddenly realized there's got to be something to this...... In my "light-bulb" moment I instantly wondered just how methodical Apple was with how they designed their retail stores. Thanks to my ex-apartment-mate Ben, I knew about the "special" bolt that Apple uses to secure all of it's glass store front windows to their retail stores. Which was just plain different when hearing about it, I mean down to the "bolt" that required a specially made tool to install it! Come on!! How granular do you have to get?

"People haven't been willing to invest this much time and money or engineering in a store before," says the Apple CEO, his feet propped on Apple's boardroom table in Cupertino. "It's not important if the customer knows that. They just feel it. They feel something's a little different."

That's the engineering oriented way, down to the bit of making sure all of the details are hashed out. If you look at Apple products you will notice that same detail (like how your headphone jack on your iPod will click when you insert your headphone plug, no other music player does that!). While browsing through my feeds this morning, I found this great post by 37 signals, here. They blogged about this article from CNN Money. Not to spoil the blog post from 37 signals, but they designed the Apple Retail stores like they designed any of their products. They rented out a warehouse near their headquarters in Cupertino, CA, and started building a prototype. Definitely an engineering-like approach to solving the "what goes in our retail store" problem.

The most striking thing, though, is what you don't see. No. 1: clutter. Jobs has focused Apple's resources on fewer than 20 products, and those have steadily been shrinking in size. Back room inventory, then, can shrink in physical volume even as sales volume grows. Also missing, at the newest stores, anyway, is a checkout counter. The system Apple developed, EasyPay, lets salespeople wander the floor with wireless credit card readers and ask, "Would you like to pay for that?" The interiors, too, have been distilled to a minimum of elements. "We've gotten it down so there's only three materials we're using: glass, stainless steel, and wood," says Johnson. "We spent a year and a half perfecting that steel. Stainless steel can be cold if you don't get the finish right.

Just like the Paradox of Choice, fewer options means a simpler product, which in Apple's current market means a simpler business model, and at the end of the rainbow there's a happy customer. In some sense it's a very industrial/engineering oriented yet heavily zen influenced approach to business. I totally dig it, it's a breath of fresh air for consumers, and definitely "Thinking Different." My favorite quote from the news article was the following.....

It was like, We have to do something, or we're going to be a victim of the plate tectonics. And we have to think different about this. We have to innovate here. Steve Jobs