Takeaway: Apple's "next-generation" store is a demonstration of how to provide customers with amazing in-store experiences that are consistent with digital channels and its brand as a whole. Apple knows how to succeed in the age of distributed commerce.
While it's certainly true that digital channels and the product content on those channels drive sales, physical stores still play a critical role in inspiring consumers' purchasing decisions.
"In fact, people are visiting stores throughout their purchase journey - even before making a purchase," wrote Think With Google. "Thirty-two percent of shoppers visit stores when they're first thinking about a purchase, and 33 percent actively research in stores to find out more about a potential purchase."
"33% of shoppers 'actively research' in stores before buying a product."
That's why you must optimize your brand's in-store experience and bring it into the 21st century - the age of distributed commerce - by seamlessly connecting your physical space with digital channels. Just ask Apple.
The next generation of shopping
According to AppleInsider, Apple's Retail Chief Angela Ahrendts and Chief Digital Officer Jony Ive teamed up to design a "next-generation" Apple Store. These new physical locations - in Memphis, San Francisco, Chicago and Brussels - take advantage of floor space to create an open atmosphere that's laced with fancy gadgets placed on those easily-recognizable wood tables.
On each side of the store, consumers can try out headphones, blast some tunes on speakers, and put some other accessories to the test. Meanwhile, in the middle of the shop stands a $1.5-million, 37-foot digital display. You could call it a TV, but at 37 feet tall, it's more like a small IMAX display.
Among other smaller details, the next-gen Apple Store lacks a logo, while the interior uses some fancy lighting fixtures and sports motion sensors around just about every corner.
That description kind of sounds like today's non-next-gen Apple Stores, but what's important here is that Apple has evolved its shopping experience entirely - and this next generation of stores successfully fosters a seamless series of interactions.
What's so great about Apple's "next-gen" store?
- Bringing tech into stores: A ContactLab report found that luxury brands must leverage in-store tech if they hope to provide seamless shopping experiences, as well as use those systems to make digital customers feel at home in physical locations. Well, Apple kills it here, with its 37-foot screen, sales specialists armed with iPads and iPods and computers everywhere for customer use.
- A consistency beyond all other brands' efforts: These stores look just like Apple products: smooth, clean and - dare I say - sexy. And the brand is so good at conveying the Apple identify that the storefront doesn't even need a logo. Better yet, shoppers can inform themselves in-store or online, since stores' inventories will be reflected digitally. And according to an iModerate survey, consumers demand that type of consistency-driven convenience, especially in regard to product availability and "trying before you buy."
- Seamlessness is spades: Apple seriously understands the importance of seamlessly connecting in-store interactions with digital ones. Consumers can make Genius Bar appointments online or via a mobile app and then be welcomed in the store. Given that we've found 90 percent of shopping is conducted digitally, Apple is set for success.
- Informative interactions: You cannot buy an Apple product while uninformed, as long as you're shopping directly with the brand, since not only can you try out items in Apple Stores, but sales specialists are always more than willing to help you learn what you want to know before purchasing expensive tech. Which is great for Apple considering that 94 percent of consumers agree that they'll give up if they can't find enough product information.
There's a valuable lesson being taught by Apple right now: Pay attention to what consumers want, and act on it to elevate your in-store shopping experiences and succeed in the era of distributed commerce.