This past week I was at the opening of Apple’s latest store in NYC. It’s a work of art with a forty five foot glass wall, an all glass ceiling and marble walls. Along with that there’s the now iconic glass staircase. In many ways, it’s more a community gathering place for Apple customers and potential customers than it is a retail store. The beauty of the stores are effective but that’s not what’s ultimately driving sales. At the end of the day, the physical store is merely the visible manifestation of the Apple customer experience. Exercise if you’re Michael Dell. Build a store with a forty five foot glass wall and ceiling and see if you sell more PCs.
Consumers don’t really care about things like Snow Leopard, Macintosh, iPods or iPhones. They care about music, web browsing, e-mail and the associated services that go with them. The platform is a means to that end, as is the store. Consumers do care a great deal about the experience they go through in buying these products and they care about the customer service they receive after the purchase.
Over the last year I keep hearing more and more anecdotes about Apple’s customer service and particularly the experience at retail. All the stories were tales that bordered on the stuff that urban myths are made of. They were repeated over and over to groups of people. They dealt with things ranging from MacBook keyboard problems, iPod failures and customer service during the purchases of back to school systems. In each case Apple did not please these customers, Apple delighted them. Even more interesting, none of the people who told me their story fit the traditional Apple customer demographic, none were die-hard techies nor Apple fanbois. They were all just customers trying to work with the devices they purchased or trying to purchase technology to solve a need. The funny thing is that they’re not customers anymore, each and every one of these folks is now an Apple fan. To the core, if you will.
Apple has made the technology buying experience something that rivals the best consumer retail experiences. I used to postulate that Apple had become the Nordstrom for technology retail. Ever shop at Nordstrom’s? If you haven’t, you should just for the experience. In fact, if you run a support organization, you should go to Nordstrom’s and shop for training purposes.
I don’t think Apple is the Nordstrom of technology any more. I just think they’re the new Nordstrom as defined by level of service. I mean, why don’t GAP salesfolks have little handhelds to let me check out wherever I am in the store? How about the idea of going into Eddie Bauer and the ability to get the coat I bought there cleaned and pressed?
Apple’s retail experience is one major reason why Apple is a real threat to many folks and it’s also the reason why Microsoft is working hard to emulate the model Apple has created.
What’s making the difference is just how much mindshare Apple is building as a result of these types of tales of support love. There’s a great urban legend about Nordstrom’s that they actually took a return on snow tires. Years ago, I did a presentation for Nordstrom’s in Seattle and had a chance to chat with some of the family members who still are active in running things. Of course, I had to ask the question: is the story about the snow tires really true? There was a pause in the room and folks looked at each other and smiled. Finally, one of the family responded. I won’t tell you if it’s true or not, but here’s the thing, they’re not telling that story about Macy’s.
They’re also not telling them about Dell, Sony or Microsoft. Regardless of whether they’re exaggerated over time or not, these stories help further build mindshare today, and mindshare today leads to market share tomorrow.