Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The genius behind Apple's "Genius Bar"

Ever since Apple opened its first retail store just a few short years ago, there have been pundits heralding the demise of the fabulously stylish (still?) tech company. After all, retail presences had killed so many other, bigger computer firms in the past, so what made Apple unique?

Well, the answer, of course, is the focus on the customer experience. What lots of people failed to realize was that a company as obsessed with the user interface as Apple had probably figured out that that same attention to detail would be required to deliver a positive, memorable bricks-and-mortar shopping experience.

Fast-forward to late 2007 and what do we see? Over 200 Apple stores in operation around the world, massive growth on tap, fat margins, a wide selection of (still?) trendy products, and a stock price that shows no signs of coming down soon. But not content with their successes so far, Apple figured that their admittedly-great retail experience still has some room for improvement.

Thus I was pleased to see this announcement at Yahoo noting that the company would be putting more of a focus on their "geniuses" -- Store employees who are filled with Apple knowledge and ready to help, whether it's showing how to use a new iPod or figuring out what's wrong with a Mac. Where other stores routinely have difficulty getting their staff to connect with shoppers, Apple actually asks you to go online and book time with geniuses before making your way to a store.

So let's look at what Apple has done: They've built a retail experience around having great staff. They hired great staff. Sure enough, people don't treat the great staff like a bunch of lepers or used car salespeople. In fact, customers now come to the stores specifically because of the staff in many cases. In response, Apple's latest store has a Genius bar capable of handling up to 50 shoppers at once, and they've added a "personal shopper" service.

While Apple's product line and core demographic lends itself particularly well to guided selling and in-house support, it doesn't seem like the success of Apple's geniuses should be limited to that one company, or even the home/personal electronics industry. There are plenty of other stores that I go to where the staff is truly excellent -- they're knowledgeable, friendly, courteous, and they know when to intrude and when not to. But it seems like there are few other brands who have made great products, great service, great stores a core part of their marketing strategy. Down here in Florida, the Publix grocery chain is trying. They've been big on service since their inception, but only recently have they started focusing on the overall store experience more. I know people are in love with Trader Joe's, and they certainly have a strong reputation, but I haven't shopped there enough myself. Wholefoods has a solid brand, and their stores are pretty to look at, but while free cheese and cracker samples are nice, I haven't found the staff to be up to snuff on many occasions, and their store layouts leave a lot to be desired.

So who else is out there? What other brands offer solid store experiences backed up with first-rate staff bent on making shoppers feel good? I'm sure there are lots of local guys, but are there any other national (or even regional) guys making this a priority right now?

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1 comment:

Bill Gerba said...

There's a quasi-related post over at the Retail Design Diva that's asking many of the same questions about making great customer service an essential part of any retail "experience". Well worth the read.