by Jim Lynch

Apple’s stores will never be the new Starbucks

Apr 25, 2017
Consumer ElectronicsiOSiPad

Angela Ahrendts is leading some big changes to Apple’s retail stores, but sometimes change is not a good thing. Apple wants to turn its stores into a version of Starbucks. Has the company lost its mind?

161214 apple newyork
Credit: Agam Shah

When Steve Jobs first launched Apple’s retail stores, many people scoffed and thought that they would never amount to much. Some people flat out predicted that Apple’s stores would fail, and those critics were proven wrong in a big way.

However, Steve Jobs is long gone now and Apple is preparing to make some very big changes to its stores. Angela Ahrendts, the Vice President of Retail, is leading these changes.

Ahrendts recently spoke with CBS News:

In 100 of its biggest stores, like the San Francisco flagship, Apple’s “hardware” update means new screens and spaces for meetings and classes. The Genius Bar, now lined with trees, becomes the Genius Grove. And there’s a more dimensional take on the Genius: new staffers specialized in music and photography called “Creative Pros.”

“Is the idea that the store will have all of these listed classes, teachers, experiences that will be publicly posted that will draw more and more people in?” O’Donnell asked.

“Absolutely,” Ahrendts said. “So we call the software of the store that we are launching the end of May – we call that Today at Apple.”

That “software” will roll out across Apple’s nearly 500 stores, many of which will be changed literally overnight. Ahrendts calls it all an effort to create “town squares” where customers engage with their devices and their communities.

“A lot of the big online guys have said they’re opening stores. Amazon’s investing in stores. Google’s investing in stores. … Starbucks figured it out, you know? Being a gathering place for – right? ‘Meet me at Starbucks,”’ Ahrendts said. “And you know, I’ve told the teams, ‘I’ll know we’ve done a really, really great job if the next generation, if Gen Z says, “Meet me at Apple. Did you see what’s going on at Apple today?”’”

More at CBS News

As I read the interview above, my eyes rolled into the back of my head. I kept thinking “Is she kidding me with this? Is this a joke?” but unfortunately she seems to be for real. Apple really is going to make these changes to its stores.

Ahrendts comments in her interview with CBS just reinforced a feeling I’ve had for a very long time that the folks inside of Apple are living in another world. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Apple’s management team is living in a dream world and is woefully out of touch with its customers in certain ways. These changes to Apple’s retail stores fit right into that theory.

A good example of this is the change from Genius Bar to Genius Grove. Genius Grove? Huh? What the hell do trees have to do with getting your Apple product fixed? Am I supposed to feel better about waiting in line because Apple stuck some stupid trees in their stores?

This is the sort of thing that lends credence to accusations of pretentiousness on Apple’s part. The Genius Bar was a simple, clean and straightforward concept. But the Genius Grove reeks of Apple losing touch with reality and adding superfluous fluff to its stores that few customers will care about when they need support for their Apple products.

Who goes to an Apple Store to hang out?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I go to an Apple Store I go there for two reasons:

1. To buy something.

2. To get something fixed.

Never, ever do I go there to use the Apple Store as a social hangout or to “engage with my community.” I’m a busy person and hanging around an Apple Store for fun and social engagement is not remotely on my mind. And I really have to question the sanity of Apple’s management team that they would assume a lot of people want their local Apple Store to be some sort of “town square.”

Apple’s retail stores are not a restaurant or coffee house or a bar. They are places where people can buy Apple products or get them fixed. Beyond that I can’t imagine people going to an Apple Store and spending their free time hanging around chit-chatting. There are plenty of other places that are much more suitable for social engagement and fun.

Apple is drifting farther and farther away from Steve Jobs

I think that these changes to the Apple Store are a mark of how far the company has been drifting away from Steve Jobs. Jobs understood that the role of the Apple Store was to sell and fix Apple products, and thus the stores were designed in a way to facilitate those functions.

Apple’s retail stores were never meant to become de facto community centers, and I don’t think that most people will use them as such. Apple’s hope that the Millennials and others will somehow embrace the company’s stores as the new Starbucks is misguided at best and downright dumb at worst.

Change can be a good thing, of course, if it makes sense and helps fulfill the mission of a product or service. But these changes to the Apple Store don’t strike me as doing that, they strike me as change solely for the sake of change.

They also reek of a company that is adrift and is flailing around desperately trying to find a way to improve its retail stores. But Apple’s retail stores already work just fine the way they are, for the most part, and none of the changes mentioned by Ahrendts seem to offer a potentially superior shopping or support experience.

If Apple wanted to improve its stores in a way that would be appreciated by most customers, the company would make it faster and easier to buy products and get them fixed. That’s it, that’s about all the company needs to do to provide a better experience.

Instead Apple seems determined to clog its retail stores with stupid plants and lazy layabouts who have nothing better to do than spend time sitting around idly chatting with one another. Who wants to wade through such nonsense to buy something or get something fixed at an Apple Store?


Did you miss a post? Check the Eye On Apple home page to get caught up with the latest news, discussions and rumors about Apple.