This little app shows why Apple’s retail store changes make complete sense

Retail is transforming, utterly

Apple, Apple retail, Angela Ahrendts, Omnichannel, digital transformation
Agam Shah

While it may seem counter-intuitive, Apple’s attempt to transform its retail operations into community hubs is a future-focused move that puts the company’s retail segment in a much stronger position to survive the digital transformation of retail, the impact of which is shown by a little app from Avira.

Avira Insight and QR Scan

Avira Insight and QR Scan is a smartphone app that lets you scan the QR code on a product you find in the shops and then brings you pricing and availability information gathered from a host of online and brick-&-mortar retailers.

It also checks sources to ensure they are legitimate and prevents people purchasing what seem to be bargains from fraudulent credit card phishing sites. It’s available for iOS and Android.

It’s the kind of application retailers must hate, because it puts an end to tactical price gouging of consumers by shops who hope to profit from location or stock availability.  It’s also an app that’s bang-on-trend for the way retail is changing.

These changes aren’t new – back in 2014, Baynote’s 4th Annual Holiday Online Shopping Survey said:

“60% of respondents said they purchased a product on Amazon or another competitor while in a store if the store didn’t price match.”

All that’s happened is that technologies that facilitate such changes are becoming more sophisticated and more widely available.

Retail is changing

It proves that consumers already check prices for products they come across in store on their smartphones, Apple Watch and other connected devices. In future, they may even choose to shop in VR stores hosted online. Within this context, what must high street stores become?

Announcing the Walker Sands2016 Future of Retail Study, Dave Parro, partner and vice president, said:

“The priority for retailers no longer lies in increasing the number of consumers who shop online, but rather improving their experience - whether it be online, in store or across different product categories.

“Our findings indicate that retailers should be focusing their current efforts on pragmatic strategies to lay the groundwork for future growth.”

Apple’s response (in part) is to focus on upgrading its stores as community hubs from within which it can provide the full range of supporting experiences.

These experiences help support all its other efforts across the customer journey.

Apple gets it

“We’re creating a modern-day town square, where everyone is welcome in a space where the best of Apple comes together to connect with one another, discover a new passion, or take their skill to the next level. We think it will be a fun and enlightening experience for everyone who joins,” said Apple’s retail chief, Angela Ahrendts.

Apple knows that retailers who don’t go that extra mile to meet the people who use them will become increasingly irrelevant and disappear under the weight of online, offline and agile new media competitors (such as Avira).

Customer first

The experiences build the customer connection, help customers learn what they want, and enable them to try the products before they buy them in an atmosphere in which they can also get the training and help they need to find out more.

The added advantage is that – unlike in most consumer electronics stores – retail staff are focused on relationship building, above sales. Sales can happen elsewhere. Building relationships to nurture such sales is critical.

These fundamental changes in retail models are creating big problems for some traditional retailers.

It is hard to transform a business structure away from box-shifting toward the provision of high quality customer relationships.

For a company that sees sales of the latest gadget in terms of rebates and profit margins it is very, very tough to justify the additional costs of support, training, and customer loyalty.  

This transformation is also why Apple is so focused on services to support future income.

But beware consolidation

At this stage in retail transformation customers have more power than ever.

They can pick and choose retailers and identify the most affordable prices for a product. They can use an app like Avira’s to scan any product they might want and find a better deal, online or offline.

However, as retail business models suffer the impact of these changes it seems likely we’ll see increased homogeneity in pricing and services, which will itself lead to further retail consolidation.

Eventually an increasingly small number of large corporations will operate multiple shopfronts (as they kind of do already), and consumer power will shrink.

(Apple is of course a special case as it provides the whole widget and is already in competition primarily with itself.)

It does remain possible that the availability of supporting services – such as the rich mix of educational tools at an Apple retail store -- will at least enable consumers like you and I to achieve more with the investments we make.

However, how long will retailers continue to invest in such loyalty-building schemes once peak consolidation and technological singularity has been achieved?

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