What will happen to the Apple Store that has been in business for 20 years in the future?

Iconic buildings are the business cards and symbols of a city.

Just like Tiananmen Square is to Beijing, the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, and Tokyo Tower is to Tokyo, seeing it evokes many people's memories and impressions of this city or country.

▲ Visitor Center in Apple Park. Picture from: Apple

For Apple fans, the iconic buildings in their hearts should be Apple Park and Apple Store directly operated stores located in various cities.

Whenever a new Apple Store opens, many fans will get up early to participate in the opening ceremony of the new store to feel the baptism of the culture of that special brand directly operated store. As for those fans who can't reach the scene, they will also use FaceTime to participate in the air.

▲ Xidan Joy City Apple Store opened.

Strictly speaking, I am not a fan of the brand, but when the Xidan Joy City Apple Store opened, it was hard not to see a happy smiling face on the raised iPad screen and the lively atmosphere of the scene. If you are infected, you will also "go home and do whatever you like" to celebrate with Specialist and Genius by high-fiving.

▲ Xidan Joy City Apple Store opened.

In the past few years, the Apple Store has expanded wildly on the mainland, almost all over the major cities along the eastern coast. But as it continued to expand to the northwest and southwest, it came to an abrupt end. The Wuhan Apple Store that was about to open was also pressed the pause button.

Subsequent to the replacement of Apple’s retail business executives, the overall direction has also changed. That is, since 2018, the number of Apple Stores worldwide has basically stabilized at around 510. For comparison, there were 490 in 2016 and 499 in 2017. The pace of expansion gradually slowed down.

The black swan of the epidemic in early 2020 has greatly affected the global retail industry, and the Apple Store is no exception. Until recently, as the epidemic became clear, all Apple Stores in the United States opened their doors to welcome customers.

Will the "shop-in-shop" jointly launched by Target Department Store be promoted globally?

In order to alleviate the impact of the epidemic, Apple has rarely joined forces with Target department stores to set up "shop-in-shops" in 17 Target malls across the United States, called Mini Apple Stores. This is not an authorized store model, but is similar to the Apple Store's direct-sale model, which is somewhat similar in form to the chain cosmetic stores of traditional supermarkets.

▲ Target Department Store. Picture from: Bloomberg

These Mac Mini stores will use new displays and lighting, and will also have a design style that is different from traditional shopping malls. In short, although the store is small, it must be consistent with Apple's style.

The Mini Apple Store in Target is mainly used to showcase new products, including new iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and so on. The internal employees are provided by Target, but they will receive Apple’s training on the product before taking up the job, which is considered to be a certified job.

However, the Mini Apple Store does not provide after-sales and training services. These services will still only exist in the Apple Store.

▲ Mini Apple Store renderings. Picture from: Target

The purpose of Mini Apple Store is very clear, that is, to let Apple products reach more people, let them feel the charm of Apple products, and achieve sales.

Previously, there have been many precedents for store-in-shop models such as Target, such as Disney, Ulta Beauty of makeup and clothing brand Levi Strauss. Such stores help traditional department stores such as Target attract and retain more customers, and are more in line with the concept of "providing one-stop shopping."

But from the current point of view, the Mini Apple Store in Target is more like an experiment for Apple, and it is difficult to bring significant changes to Apple's retail business. After all, at this stage Apple already has direct-operated stores such as the Apple Store and a large number of third-party licensors. This approach of Apple is a new attempt in the retail business, and if the effect is considerable, it may be promoted soon.

This is like the IRP Program (Independent Repair Service Provider) launched by Apple in 2019. At the end of 2020, IRP has already come to us.

Apple Store is also an important part of Apple's ecology

In addition to the expansion of new channels and new forms, Apple's Apple Store has been constantly making changes and attempts in recent years.

For us, the Apple Store is more of a store that provides pre-sales and after-sales services and has a unified design style. It may be less important to Apple than iPhone, iPad and Mac. In fact, the Apple Store plays an important role in the Apple ecosystem.

▲ Apple Store on the Chicago River.

First of all, it is the place where ordinary people feel the Apple culture most directly. They can experience Apple products, communicate with Apple employees, participate in offline courses, and intuitively experience the ecology built by Apple.

Secondly, in recent years, the proportion of direct sales of Apple products has increased year by year, which has a relatively intuitive relationship with the services brought by the Apple Store, especially the promotion of wearable business products, namely Apple Watch, AirPods and so on. The wave of store closures under the influence of the 2020 epidemic has had a certain impact on the sales of Apple Watch and AirPods.

For this reason, Cook mentioned in the third-quarter 2020 conference call that after the Apple Store is closed, the Apple Watch will have a greater impact, because people cannot go to the physical store to try on the watch, and cannot match the strap according to their preferences. "So, I think that as the store closes, it will put more pressure on this area."

Three stages of Apple Store from simple to complex

May 19 this year will be the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Apple Store. 20 years ago, Apple opened its first retail store in Virginia. At that time, Steve Jobs introduced the Apple Store to the outside world through video.

At that time, Apple’s Apple Store did not have a fixed cash register as it is now, which is very different from the traditional department stores at that time. Apple wants to let the public directly touch and see Apple's products through the Apple Store, preaching for its own products and culture. To put it simply, it is to bring Apple products to the masses so that people can see what Apple products can do.

With continuous expansion, today the Apple Store has 510 stores in 25 countries and regions, and this number may continue to grow, but it may not be as fast as before, and the direction may change slightly.

Since then, Apple's product line has continued to be enriched, and the Apple Store has become the easiest way for us to experience Apple's latest products, and it has been so far. From 2010 to 2015, the number of activations of Apple devices increased by 530 million in five years.

The number of Apple users and the number of devices is constantly refreshing records. The function of the Apple Store is not only to experience products and external display, but to increase many after-sales parts, including customer service and product support. In the following 5 years, the number of activations of Apple devices increased by another 400 million.

▲ The first Apple Store in Seoul. Picture from: Apple

Now, Apple Store plays three major functions, new product experience, customer service and ecological activities. Angela Ahrendts, the former vice president of Apple’s retail business, commented that one-third of the customers arriving in the Apple Store are for products, one-third for services, and the other one-third. It is to participate in the activities of the store.

This actually corresponds to the different stages of people in the Apple ecosystem. Some are newcomers, some are beginning to be fascinated, some are beginning to be "obsessed" and so on.

At present, there are about 1 billion Apple users worldwide, but on the other hand, there are nearly 87% of people in the world who have not used Apple products. The goal of Apple's retail business is to allow Apple's products to intersect with these people, and the Apple Store is the most important part. It shows the brand culture to the outside world and also shapes ordinary people's first impression of Apple.

The future of the Apple Store lies in "people"

In the past few years, the Apple Store has continuously set off a wave of store openings in "new first-tier" and "quasi-first-tier" cities, and has continued to expand. However, with the adjustment of Apple's Apple Store policy, the "sinking" approach was stopped. The expansion of the number of stores will bring considerable risks in terms of rent, staff and logistics. In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the number of Apple Stores has stabilized at 510 stores, and there is no longer the old road of crazy stores.

On the contrary, Apple cooperates with third-party retailers more and more frequently, Mini Apple Store in Target, IRP Program (Independent Repair Service Provider) program and so on. Compared with increasing the number of Apple Stores, relying on third-party retail partnerships, Apple can establish more bonds with customers in second- and third-tier cities, without having to worry about the risks of operating its own stores.

During her tenure as Apple’s vice president of retail, Angela Ahrendts promoted the Apple Store 2.0 plan, bringing more open space, eliminating specific regional divisions, and expanding the Genius Bar concept to facilitate faster reception of more customer of.

At the same time, with his previous work experience at Burberry and his sense of high-end fashion, Ahrendts bet on cities rather than countries. Apple began to select the location of the new Apple Store, and gradually focused on top cities that Apple has not touched. After all, upward and moving to big cities is a major socio-economic trend.

Even after leaving Apple in 2019, Apple did not stop its strategy of "opening stores in top cities", such as the opening of the Apple Store in Singapore last year and the second Apple Store in Seoul that is under planning.

▲ The Apple Store in Marina Bay, Singapore.

The newly appointed Deirdre O'Brien, who is responsible for Apple's retail industry, also serves as Apple's vice president of human resources. In the future, Apple's retail industry, or the future of the Apple Store, may be closely related to "people". The first is to open stores in top cities to reach more people; the second is to focus on employee culture, because employees are the best evangelists for Apple's brand, and they can introduce Apple devices to more people and communicate Apple to the outside world. Culture.

In the future, the Apple Store may not make substantial improvements in design, appearance, and area, but it will evolve with future products in retail concepts, in line with current sales trends and technological trends. It is foreseeable that after the launch of Apple AR glasses, the services provided by the Apple Store will also fully embrace AR. By then, the Apple Store may be the best place to experience AR technology in advance.

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