Apple's executive customer experience

Daddy’s got a new iPad! I just got it home.

Since I live in Australia, I guess I’m one of the first. And the experience I had getting it was a lesson in retail done right. Heck, it was an example of capitalism done right! There were five keys to making my purchase a great purchase experience.

  • Honesty – Unfortunately, I couldn’t pre-order my iPad because of my travel schedule. So I had no choice but to brave the Apple Store on launch day. I thought I’d avoid any queues but coming at the nonchalant, but early-enough time of 10:30am. No luck, there was still a queue. I asked the staff running up and down the line how long I’d have to wait. They said 30-45 minutes. I was heading back home with my iPad in 40 minutes.
     
  • Efficiency – As I got into the queue, an Apple staff member asked me what model I was looking for. I told them the it was the white 64gb WiFi version. She dug into her bag and gave me a coupon which secured my purchase. The point here is that the Apple Store matched every unit in stock with a coupon. So, if they didn’t have what I wanted I could either pick something else or leave the queue and wait another day. What I didn’t have to do was waste my time to find out what was in stock.
     
  • Courtesy – when I got into the Apple Store I realised why there was a queue. It kept the store from being a mad house. What they were doing was managing the foot traffic so I didn’t end up jostling and fighting people for available product.
     
  • Commitment – I know it seems trite to say this, but the people working at the Apple Store are on some higher plane of retail existence. They are polite in a way that can only come from the sincerest appreciation for what they’re selling. Add to that knowledge of what they’re selling that can only come from people who use what they’re selling. That was evident by the casual conversations staff were having with waiting customers on what they were doing with their iPads.
     
  • The Extra Mile – The Apple Store was prepared to unbox your new iPad and work with you to get it set up. For free! Here in Australia that type of effort would be deemed by other retailers as being a paid-for service…probably one you’d need to book a week in advance.

None of these things happen by accident. Each of these things requires meticulous planning and a sustained effort at maintaining a high performance culture. In a recent interview with Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, he said;

“I think that people’s emotional connection to our products is that they sense our care…”

Well, I certainly felt Apple cared about me as they designed an experience to make acquiring a highly popular product on launch day – one where demand is outstripping supply – a pleasurable one.
Why do I feel compelled to write about this? Two reasons.
The first is to point out to vendors hoping to compete with Apple that this is what you’re up against. Your challenge is how you create the same type of experience with retailers who see your products as just another SKU at aisle 6, floor 4, electronics section.

The second reason is to point out how incredibly hard it will be to achieve that. In a case of ironic serendipity, the National Retail Association in Australia has released an inquiry claiming that 118,000 jobs will be lost to online shopping over the next three years and that 33,000 jobs will vanish because of the GST exemption on imported goods bought online under $1000. Australian retailers (and I’m assuming many other around the world) are obsessed with what everyone else is doing to them rather than focusing on what they need to do to compete in a global digital economy.

What they need to learn from Apple is two critical lessons. The first is to make sure that you have a well-designed and integrated retail experience. One where your customers are not penalised (unavailability of some stock, limited access to specials, etc.) if they chose one over the other.

The more important lesson is price consistency. No amount of experience design can entice people into your shop when your asking price is vastly overpriced compared to online oversees alternatives. If I remove the GST from my new iPad purchase, for comparison purposes, then I’m actually getting my iPad slightly cheaper than I could in the US. That’s online, or in store. Now, locally Apple faces the same real estate and staff costs and the same legal obligations as local retailers. How come they can do all this and the local companies can’t?

So, Apple, thanks for the pleasurable experience.

So, Apple competitors, best of luck.

So, Australian retailers, stop whining and pick up your game.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a new iPad to set up.

Brian Prentice is a research vice president at Gartner Australia and a writer for the Gartner blog. You can see his profile here.