The New Apple Stores That Aren’t Stores

Danielle Beurteaux

Will shoppers go to stores – that aren’t quite stores – to maybe hang out, and maybe not spend money?

Apple recently announced that the word “store” would be removed from all its virtual and actual retail locations. So keep in mind that when you’re shopping for a new MacBook, you won’t be doing that in an actual Apple store. Just at Apple. Or in Apple. Or something.

You’ll be doing that in what Apple seems to be envisioning as a sort of community space. Some locations already have the new design features, including large-format video screens and plants and seating for just hanging out. The Genius Bar will now be the Genius Grove (though my hopes that computer support would come via A Midsummer Night’s Dream theme have been dashed, unfortunately).

They’re designed to be something like town squares. Apple’s Angela Ahrendts, who runs the company’s retail operations, told Business Insider that they don’t need to open more stores. Instead, they want to create environments that encourage gatherings and experiences. So the new and renovated retail stor… places… are the first wave of this new angle, just in time for the release of the new iPhone 7 (you know, the one without the headphone jack).

As is well known, as Apple goes, many will follow. Or at least pay careful attention. What would it mean if retailers followed Apple’s lead and applied that philosophy to their own brick-and-mortars?

As retailers search for new ways to stand out from the crowd and engage consumers, there’s been a move towards creating stores (sorry, Apple) that are a departure from the stores of yesteryear. Retailers are using technology like virtual reality to create experiences that can’t be had – yet – while shoppers are browsing products on their computers while they’re at home sitting on the couch.

Because although e-commerce gets a lot of attention, it remains responsible for a small percentage of retail sales – less then 10% in the U.S.

In fact, even Amazon is opening up physical spaces with its own stores and a goal of 100 pop-ups that will stock Amazon’s own products and give shoppers somewhere, albeit temporary, to play around with them.

But if Apple’s move seems bold, consider the typical and now pretty rare American, small-town general store. Those acted as news centers and community gathering places, too. And, to some extent, Apple stores already played something of this role – visit one of the busier ex-stores and you’d see people playing around with the computers on display, checking email, and sitting anywhere they can. (Try the New York City Meatpacking location on a Saturday for the full crowd experience.) The company already started offering art classes at some locations earlier this year, and it’s long held workshops, although they’ve been product-specific.

Removing the pressure to buy can actually be a good way to get people to buy. The Apple retail rebrand is not about selling individual products as much as it’s about creating community through identity, and that’s something it’s already good at doing.

Companies need a big idea that brings physical and digital elements together to wow customers. See Customer Experience: OmniChannel. OmniNow. OmniWow.

Image: Melv_L – MACASR via Flickr.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.