Apple's Store update takes retail to the metaverse

Apple is a case study in how to build multi-device, multi-platform portals to unique and customer-focused experiences.

Apple, Mac, web, ioS, iPhone, Apple retail, Apple Store, omnichannel

Apple has updated its website with the reintroduction of an easy-to-find "Store" section and I can’t help but wonder why it was ever made harder to find in an earlier site redesign.

Sales didn’t stop

Sales didn’t stop when Apple redesigned its site and made the store a more discreet space. To get to it, you’d either use a link in the site menu, a link at the bottom of the page, or via the "Buy" button on any product page.

However, as Apple’s business becomes increasingly online, it’s not especially surprising the company would choose to make it easy to find its online shopping mall. While the rationale for the earlier discretion was likely to reflect that Apple’s an experience company, not a sales company, that schtick became harder to accept once sales broke a trillion dollars.

Changing direction?

It is, however, interesting to consider whether the change will be matched by a move to transform Apple’s retail stores into more sales-driven operations.

I hope this isn’t so. One of the key elements to those stores since the beginning has been a focus on identifying what people need, rather than on sales.

“You can feel what the Apple brand is by the experience you have in the space. Now, more companies see their stores as brand touch points, rather than just a transaction space,” Tim Kobe, who helped design the first Apple retail stores, said in 2019.

I hope Apple isn’t changing its store philosophy too much — it has, after all, turned those places into the world’s most profitable retailers. I also hope the company really embraces hybrid working practicses, rather than the hobbled back-to-work-on-certain-days model it has taken up.

A good overall move

The decision to make the online Apple Store easy to get to is a good one. You can get there via a tab at the top of the page.

Once there you’ll find an experience that seems very much modelled on the one offered in the Apple Store app (because Apple gets the omnichannel). That means neat little sections for each product type, special offers, and links to useful services such as specialist advisors, genius support, and free personal sessions.

When you purchase an Apple thing, you can get free delivery or pay to have the product delivered within two hours. Pick up, trade in, and payment plans and links to the company’s really useful Today At Apple tutorial sessions are all there, as are links to education, business, and the refurb store.

In other words, it’s just like the old store, but with a facelift and a more unified shopping experience across all devices, online and through apps. Which means your user experience should be the same, however you choose to visit.

And that's the point

Apple knows that delivering consistent retail strategies across multiple touchpoints boosts customer engagement, retention, and sales. It’s a customer-focused approach in which you offer an integrated experience across every point. It’s an approach Target profited from in Q2 20, when it found that multi-channel consumers spend four times as much as store-only consumers and 10 times more than digital-only consumers.

Apple also knows that today’s consumers use an average of almost six touch-points when purchasing an item, and 98% of Americans switch between multiple devices in a day. The importance of delivery and store pick up also grew during the pandemic, when Adobe Analytics claims the number of orders placed online and picked up in stores grew 208%.

Where’s the AR?

One missing piece seems to be the absence of artificial-reality (AR) content. Given Apple’s continued focus on AR, it seems strange the online store lacks access to AR-driven product experiences. I can’t help but think there’s a missed opportunity for an App Clip or QR code on page to unlock AR product experiences for shoppers. Why is it Ikea can show you what your desk might look like in your home office, but Apple isn’t delivering the same thing for an iMac, MacBook Pro or HomePod mini?

I know Apple does make AR product assets available sometimes, but I think it should consider making them universal and available across every one of its retail store touchpoints. It feels like such an obvious lack.

The bottom line is that Apple now has a metaverse-friendly online store experience to provide a multi-device, and (via the web) multi-platform portal to the unique, customer-focused experiences its retail outlets are already famous for: tutorials, training, advice, and more.

The next step, I expect, will be to expand the number of available touch points while expanding the product range, and, presumably, generating additional sales.

“Companies with extremely strong omnichannel customer engagement see a 9.5% year-over-year increase in annual revenue,” reports the Aberdeen Group.

Chasing growth is the Apple way, after all, so its teams probably take a little mid-pandemic confidence in that total retail sales in Q3 2021 set a June quarter record, as Apple revealed during its most recent fiscal call.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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