What Lies in Store for Apple Stores?

It would be safe to say that eyebrows were raised at news that Apple is hiring John Browett, the chief executive of British technology retailer Dixons, to head Apple Inc.’s global retail division.

Presumably Mr. Browett interviews really, really well, and perhaps Apple CEO Tim Cook has yet to visit a PC World or Currys (Dixon’s face of retail in the U.K.), but the two retail experiences are poles apart.

Apple stores are the epitome of tasteful design, with no visible cash registers, highly trained staff and an exacting attention to visual appeal; think gleaming white counters, bleached wood floors, minimal and tasteful signage.

Currys and PC World are more in the “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” end of retail, with all of the associated aesthetic appeal of that school of selling: garish purples, violent yellows, stacks of products, cluttered, aggressive, frenetic.

Apple Store, Retail Localization

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs was known to be obsessive about his stores. In Mr. Jobs’s biography, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle and longtime friend of Mr. Jobs, said: “If you look that the stores and the products, you will see Steve’s obsession with beauty as simplicity—this Bauhaus aesthetic and wonderful minimalism, which goes all the way to the checkout process in the stores.”

Bauhaus aesthetics and wonderful minimalism aren’t words that could ever be applied to PC World. So if not for his design flare, why Mr. Browett?

Apple Store, PC Mag, Retail Localization

“Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else we’ve met,” said Mr. Cook. “We are thrilled to have him join our team and bring his incredible retail experience to Apple.”

PC World was slated in a 2009 report as the worst place to buy a computer on the high street, receiving a 42% customer score. The same survey put Apple at the top, with customers rating it at 88%.

Although such searches are, of course, self-selecting, a quick search online finds little evidence that much has changed in the last three years.

To be fair to Dixons and Mr. Browett, who was previously at tesco.com, the U.K.’s first online grocery site, he has steered Dixons well through some very difficult times. While rivals Best Buy pulled out, and Comet was sold to the French electronics consortium Kesa for just £2, Dixons reported a not-awful Christmas period.

While like-for-like sales were down 7% in the 12 weeks to January, margins held firm as customers turned to its IT help service, Knowhow.

It is hard to imagine that Apple will be looking to Mr. Browett to take its rich retail outlets downmarket. The U.S. company must be hoping his ability to squeeze margins will enable them to extract even more value from its customers; its stores have one of the highest sales per square foot of any major retailer.

[via WSJ.com]

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