While the opening of a small store in a suburban mall might not seem like a big deal to you, it was to around a thousand people who queued up to be first through the doors.
There's already been lots written about Apple stores, and the opening of a mall store, as opposed to a flagship store like George Street in Sydney is a stark contrast. Rather than striking architecture encased with glass and steel, a local suburban store feels kind of, well, plain.
But you can't discount the significance of Apple's retail strategy: it now has over 225 stores in places including UK, Italy, China, Japan and now Australia; the
number of visitors to Apple store has grown steadily, from 25.2 million
in 2004 to 102.4 million in 2007. Store revenues have also increased
steadily and now account for over 17 percent of Apple's sales.
But even still, the launch of the store in Chadstone today marks a shift in the retail landscape for Apple in Melbourne, not just for Apple, but for all other Apple resellers nearby. If you're disappointed that Apple chose Chadstone as the first store for Melbourne don't be, as there are rumors of Apple stores opening soon in Southland, Eastland and Doncaster shopping centres too.
Without question, the thing that Apple talks about with retail is 'customer experience.'
I spoke to Steve Cano, Senior Director of Apple International Retail -- a stereotypical Californian surfy type -- about what made Apple retail so unique and successful, and he said it was two things; position and people.
Cano said that Apple will only open a store if the position is right, and, for outdoor stores, they need to have the flexibility to brand them properly. He said Apple might open a flagship retail store in Melbourne's CBD - but only if they found a property suitable for the task.
When discussing the staff at the Apple store, Cano said that the store manager for Chadstone, as an example, had known about the position since 2005, and had been training since then, spending months at a time at Cupertino and in other Apple stores in the US being trained.
If you've ever been to an Apple store you'll know that the experience matters.
Cano said that one of the most helpful things Apple does is to collect customer feedback via email. In a typical transaction, a customer is emailed a receipt at the time of purchase, and encouraged to reply to that email with feedback. Apple receives over 2500 emails per week from this, and for each bad experience a customer has, they will receive a phone call from the store manager who will try to resolve the issue. (That said, if you actually try to call in to an Apple store, you'll first be met with a helpful offshore call centre worker who will try to look up and resolve your issue.)
Cano said that Apple uses a customer counting system developed by ShopperTrak
to track customer movements inside, and outside its stores. ShopperTrak can determine how many people enter the store, and track the percentage of customers that enter who make their way to the purchasing counter. The system is recessed in to an opening above the main entrance.
Like most things Apple, it's the detail that counts, and you notice that in the stores too. From the 'natural' finishes including timber, stone and glass which are constantly being refined in the mock stores Apple have back at Cupertino to Genius bar for those with problems. There's even a free service for those new to the Mac platform (which Apple estimate is over 50 percent) where a Genius will transfer your files from your old PC to your new Mac.
But while all of this is good for Apple, it's decidedly bad for all retailers who aren't Apple, but stock Apple products. How do those businesses compete when an Apple store becomes a neighbor? I suspect most continue to do OK by offering better pricing (Apple stores don't discount), a better and more diverse range of products, and good service - but long term, most will probably end up shutting their doors unless they offer something unique.