The Apple Store is always packed with people--it's like they are just camped out there, permanently.
According to the Wall Street Journal (15 June 2011), the Apple stores are an unbelievable success story:
1) The 326 stores sold about $11.7 billion worth of merchandise in 2010, and have an estimated 26.9% profit margin--compared with about 1% margin for Best Buy before taxes.
2) They led with sales per square foot of over $4,406--higher than Tiffany at $3,070,, Coach at $1,776, and Best Buy at $880
3) More people now visit Apple's stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Disney's 4 biggest theme parks last year.
And people are not just "window shopping," but people are actively engaged trying out, testing, experimenting with the latest Apple products sitting out on the display desks.
Of course, there are also lots of sales people in their bright red Apple shirts ready to help, answer questions, and even sell you something.
Apple's stated "sales" philosophy--"not to sell, but rather to help customer solve problems."
Thus, employees receive no sales commissions and have no sales quotas--that's definitely pretty novel! (The exception is that "employees must sell services packages with devices"--I've always been a little leery of those, thinking why do I need the service package if the product is supposedly such high quality to begin with?)
Apple focuses their team on customer service, and their 20007 training manual uses the APPLE acronym as follows:
A--"Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome"
P--"Probe politely to understand all the customer needs"
P--"Present a solution for the customer to take home today"
L--"Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns"
E--"End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return"
I sort of like it--no where does it say to sell, up-sell, cross-sell the customer, but rather it's much more about services and solutions.
At checkout, the salespeople can ring you up from where ever you happen to be in the store on iPod touches with credit card readers.
And trouble shooting Apple products is done at the "Genius Bar"--something like the Geek Squad on steroids. This is where things start to get a little weird, since Apple only pays their geniuses something like $30 an hour, so but for the love of Apple, what are they doing there?
Overall though, I think the whole store experience is pretty ingenious: from "the clutter free look using natural materials like wood, glass, stone, and stainless steel" to the large image color displays of the products dotting the walls, the stores are inviting, hip, and you know when you walk out with a product, it'll be plug and play, immediately functional, and extremely sleek to match.
J.C. Penny made a brilliant move announcing the hiring of Ron Johnson as their new CEO, effective November--Ron is the brains behind the Apple store design. If Ron can Apple-fy the Penny stores, wow wow wow, but that this is not a sure thing, since Apple products are cool and sort of sell themselves anyway--they just needed the right ambience.
(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)