Retail SVP Angela Ahrendts Discusses Apple’s Retail Strategy in New Interview

In a new interview with Vogue, Apple’s Retail SVP Angela Ahrendts says that retail is broken and stores need to rethink their approach to compete with online shopping.

The retail sector is in trouble in the United States — almost 10,000 have closed their doors in the country since 2017. Apple’s solution to this problem, according to Ahrendts, is to make shopping into an experience for customers, rather than just a place to spend money.

“We are now opening fewer, larger stores so that you can get the full experience of everything that’s Apple,” says the Apple exec. “I think as humans we still need gathering places, and when you are serving digital natives, the thing they long for more than anything is human connection. Eye contact.”

Apple has opened just nine new retail locations in the United States in the past year while opting instead to remodel a number of its nearly 400 existing flagship stores. In regards to Apple’s new retail location in Washington, D.C. — the first to open in the United States since Apple Downtown Brooklyn in December 2017 — Ahrendts was able to shed a bit of light on the upcoming retail space:

A few years ago I sent a photo to Tim [Cook, chief executive of Apple] saying there’s this library that Apple could turn into a community space,” she explains. “Carnegie envisioned it years ago when he had the reading room. For Apple, we’ll have field trips with busloads of kids; or they will be coming in learning to code every morning. It’s a different type of investment.

In Canada, Toronto is set to gain a new larger store inside its location within the Eaton Centre mall.

As far as new retail locations go, Apple makes sure that they offer as up-to-date technology as the new-build stores. For instance, at the upcoming Apple Carnegie Library flagship in Washington D.C., Apple has inserted thousands of location-aware “iBeacons” behind the historic walls.

“These location-aware sensors connect with the Apple Store app on iPhones, sending visitors a greeting when they arrive in store, and prompting them to skip the cash register and pay for purchases via the app as they approach the accessories area,” reads the report.

This, she said, helps make stores into “living, breathing spaces, not just two-dimensional boxes.”

The company’s “Today at Apple” programs — which take place in Apple’s physical retail spaces — offer classes, talks, concerts and workshops, each designed, in Ahrendts’s words, to “enrich lives.” The lineup is part whimsical and part inspiration, including events like “Drawing Treehouses with Foster + Partners,” fitness walks, and “Make Your Own Emoji” sessions for kids.

Employee communication is key, says Ahrendts. With over 70,000 retail employees, Ahrendts details how good communication can create a genuine feeling in a retail space that is more than just a place to buy iPhones:

At 506 stores around the world, Apple staff start their day with an app called Hello, which briefs them on the most important “need to knows” of the day, often featuring videos from Ahrendts and her team. A second app, Loop, functions as an internal social network where staff can share learnings with each other. “Someone might be selling more phones than anybody else and we ask them to share that on a 20-second video on Loop,” Ahrendts explains. “We use auto-translate and everybody in the world can see what Tom in Regent Street is doing. It’s a huge unlock, just getting all the stores to talk to one another.

Read the entire interview with Apple’s Retail SVP Angela Ahrendts over at Vogue.

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