Minding the Store: The Next-Gen Vision of Apple Retail SVP Angela Ahrendts


Apple retail SVP Angela Ahrendts Fortune Most Powerful Women 2016

One of the highlights so far at the 2016 Fortune Most Powerful Women conference was Monday night’s opening fireside chat (watch below) with Apple’s retail head Angela Ahrendts. The former CEO of Burberry, who was hired by Apple as SVP of Retail and Online Stores in 2013 and joined at the beginning of 2014, outlined the ways that Apple is transforming the retail experience, including:

Turning the store into a hands-on classroom by making its stores places of learning and trying, not just buying. Its Union Square store in San Francisco is kicking off the initiative by offering monthly in-store “Tuesday for Teachers” workshops that will focus on a new topic and show how they can apply it to their lessons, such as “Make Your Lessons Sing with GarageBand”; “Transform Your Lessons with Keynote”; “Document Learning with Explain Everything”; and as Apple Education development exec Scott Meech notes below, “Bring Lessons to Life with Puppet Pals.”

Apple Camp free classes for kids

Building on the success of the popular field trips for classes and Apple Camp free summer workshops for kids, stores will also offer free classes (three times daily) during the school year for kids, teachers and parents to learn coding using the Swift Playgrounds app and an iPad, demonstrating its belief that everyone can code—and removing barriers to learn new digital skills.

Viewing stores as town squares or agoras. Apple is not only teaching customers at its stores, it’s creating moments of human connection, lagniappe (unexpected delight) and experiences, such as having a guitarist or an artist in the mix, just as Burberry made original music a vital part of its in-store, runway and digital experience). “On the weekend you’ll see an artist sketching things or a guy playing a guitar,” Ahrendts said about the new Apple store concept. “The goal is to help foster human experiences that draw people out of their digital bubbles.”

Apple Regent Street store accessories October 2016

That extends to the physical design of each store, with the accessory-displaying “avenues” bordering the town square, while the giant screens — called “forums” — act as a hub for a variety of activities. As Ahrendts explained, “The store is now the biggest product we produce and we have five new features. Accessories are ‘avenues,’ and the huge digital screen in each store is the forum.” The town square concept also extends to naming.

Apple Regent Street store London October 2016

Demonstrating empathy and trust (such as untethering iPhones in stores) in employees and customers alike to engage both and remove the barriers to experiencing products. Ahrendts noted that Apple hires retail staffers based on their empathy and compassion so that they can enrich lives rather than salesmanship. (And if that trust is broken, such as the recent alleged sharing of customers’ photos in Australia, the company will take swift action.)

Apple Regent Street store London employee

Thinking digital- and -experience first for a unified customer journey, whether online or in-person. To that end, Ahrendts recently dropped the online part of her title to just SVP of Retail, in line with her and CEO Tim Cook’s unified One Retail philosophy. Similarly, Apple dropped the “Stores” from its store branding in August, reflecting a more singular experience as well as Apple’s efforts to turn the store into more than a retail channel. It also means Apple’s next-generation stores integrate, display and demonstrate products based on how people use them to make the in-store experience feel consistent with their digital experience.

Apple Store London Regent Street Angela Ahrendts October 2016

“How do we make it so the best of Apple can come together in one place?” Ahrendts said was the rallying cry for the design philosophy for the new stores. They mapped out everything people do on their devices and designed the stores accordingly, creating a bigger focus on the liberal arts and music, for instance. The new Creative Pro position at Apple retail locations is a different kind of Genius, to help customers learn not just the how but discover what to do with an Apple product to express their creativity, from photography lessons to coding to learning how to make movies or music with GarageBand.

Apple Angela Ahrendts Fortune Most Powerful Women 2016

By the the end of this year, 95 Apple stores worldwide—including its most recent makeover, in London’s Regent Street—will be updated while new stores such as its first store in Mexico and its new store at the World Trade Center in New York embody the brand’s vision of making each store a vibrant, welcoming community.

For more on how Ahrendts is minding the store, watch her full interview at the 2016 Fortune Most Powerful Women summit below.