After reading Darrell’s excellent appraisal of Apple’s new retail model, I had to run out and see it for myself. After all, 10 years ago Apple’s (s aapl) minimalist approach was unusual and out of step. Is Apple Retail 2.0 a step forward, or a step back?
Upon walking in, I was struck with how open the store felt. In the past, the tables seemed cluttered with signage and retail display holders. Now there is more of a flow into the back of the store. Gone is all paper, including the gift cards that typically cluttered the tables. Putting the smaller items such as the iPods, iPhones, and laptops in the front opens up the store quite a bit.
Apple’s strategy of having a table for each product is still in place, but tasteful clear plastic signage rises from the center or each, with the product name in black framed by a frosted white background.
Of course, there’s also the new iPad interactive displays. For desktop products, they seemed superfluous. With the focus on the product, the iPad is easily ignored or overlooked. In fact, after observing visitors to the store for close to an hour, I didn’t notice anyone using the iPad retail interface for either the iMac or the MacBook product line.
I did see multiple people using the iPad to review options and rate plans at the iPhone 4 table. The iPad’s representation of the confusing array of iPhone 4 options clearly benefited the consumer by distilling the information into easily understood tabs. Here’s a short video of the new terminals in action (both the iPhone and the Mac ones) so you can see for yourself what else they provide:
I do see a few flaws with this Retail 2.0 strategy that I suspect will be fixed soon. Apple stores have wonderful bright open storefronts and those iPads flush mounted against a table will get some glare. Some iPads were hard to read and it was a rather cloudy day. Also, because the iPad is not adjustable, you had to hunch over to use it; not the most comfortable position. Finally, though it seems obvious, you have to be familiar with the iOS interface in order to use the product. Although iOS is easy to learn and is quite intuitive, it’s not for everyone. I saw a gentleman with crutches who clearly was having some trouble with the iPad, though Apple Specialists immediately realized this and helped him.
Apple Retail 2.0 is a great use of iPads to present product information, but its implementation does have some flaws, and I don’t really expect it to scale to other retail environments given the relative high cost of outfitting each workstation with an accompanying iPad.