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Business Management

Apple has changed retailing and office design (as well as the stuff you already know)

It will probably be years before we can comfortably assess the many ways that Apple has changed the world. Reading a couple of stories this week about tech firms’ retail store plans it occurred to me that the company also changed the way that stores look, our expectations of service and even the way our workplaces function.

Let’s go back. We know for a fact that Apple changed personal computing by popularising the graphical user interface and providing the platform for modern desktop publishing and digital design. In its Second Coming, when Steve Jobs re-joined the company, we can also be confident that Apple changed music buying and consumption models, the appearance and input for cellular phones as well as popularising tablet computing. It might well be about to change the way we use wristwatches.

But retail? The Wall Street Journal this week reported that Apple exerts a tremendous gravitational pull that helps nearby stores increase footfall too. That lets it command low rents for itself, says the report. 

But Apple has also changed other elements of retail: think of the Genius Bar service ethos and compare against what you used to get from the tired electronics store chains. Or the beacons that ID you the moment you walk in the store. The phenomenal revenue per square foot. Or that blazing white look that is lit like a Hollywood depiction of Heaven.

Apple’s retail success is such that it attracted a CEO of a marquee brand – Angela Ahrendts of Burberry – to join it. But it’s also inspiring other changes. I well remember Michael Dell saying that if he were Steve Jobs he would close down Apple and give money back to shareholders. Apple at that time was at its nadir and Dell was seen as omniscient. We all thought that direct sales and lowest-cost manufacturing was the future for electronics. We were proven very, very wrong and today, Apple’s rivals are looking to the Apple model for inspiration.

Google is opening a retail franchise in central London in what looks a lot like a trial run for a bigger retail push. Amazon stores are also coming. Microsoft stores are already here and closely shadow the Apple look. That’s a remarkable tribute and a tacit admission that Apple was right and the in-store experience adds value.

Even Microsoft’s offices are turning white and all over the world workplace designers are increasingly pursuing very white minimalist lookalike designs. Apple’s reinvention of itself (or perhaps Steve Jobs’ reinvention) is remarkable: today we’re all living in an Apple world and we’re just starting to count the ways.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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