The hype of e-commerce is still on the rising tide. Business literature is full of strategies and tactics on how to open and run an online store. At one end, the flourishing number of e-retailers is really promising. In contrast, the rising number of e-retailers’ closure is also alarming. While many retailers are primarily depending on e-commerce, Apple is doing just the opposite. Apple is opening more and more stores on various physical locations. Is Apple walking backward by increasing reliance on “brick-n-mortar” (meaning a store in a physical location) establishments?
It has been over a decade that Apple is in retail operation. Currently, Apple operates 373 stores, at home and abroad combined. Out of these 373 stores, about 123 stores are located outside USA. Being a retail chain operator for its own products, Apple follows an almost uniform pattern of visual arrangement and decoration for its retail outlets. Apple usually has two formats of retail stores. One uses the full scale self-operated brick-n-mortar stores, another uses the concept of “store inside store”. The concept of “store inside store” is simple. Here, a separate section of most popular Apple products are displayed with “Apple only” shelves at a corner of another chain store.
No matter what, the emphasis on providing customer service through physically situated retail stores has born fruits in the long run. Each store is meticulously designed to address all customer issues at hand. Starting from setting gadgets ready for use by customers to troubleshooting by experts at “Genius Bar”, Apple has shown how not to do e-retailing, thus setting a new standard for others. Apple’s strategy of linking brick-n-mortar stores to better customer service has been so successful, that Microsoft has been reported to follow the similar strategy from 2009 onwards.
In my humble opinion, while growth of e-retailing is expected, this may not be the ultimate form of retailing as many experts predicted in the past. The classical case of “human touch” and the value of social transaction that happens in a physically situated retail store, carry an immense emotional value that cannot be replaced by online stores. I believe, this is what Apple has reinvented from the forgotten world of consumer behavior.
Thus, Apple is not stepping backward. Rather, they are simply enhancing the trust level through the need recognition of human interaction, and fulfilling this need by delivering high value of social and business transaction.