For years Apple has been way out front in imagining the possibilities of new retail experiences. Now with its ‘Today at Apple’ program, recently launched worldwide, this information-age leader is evolving at the forefront of imagination retail, the essential step in transforming retail from a product-based (i.e. selling Apple computers and iPhones) to a people-based business.
The concept behind ‘Today at Apple’ is simple, but profound. Originally announced in late April as a series of educational seminars to be offered in its 495 Apple Stores, on the surface it didn’t sound too revolutionary: a computer store teaching people how to use their computers. But the program’s goals and implementation are far more expansive than just some training classes.
Apple wants to make each of its Apple Stores a community hub bound by shared technology and that lubricates personal connections. Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior Vice President of Retail and former CEO of Burberry, said in the release announcing the program, “We’re creating a modern-day town square, where everyone is welcome in a space where the best of Apple comes together to connect with one another, discover a new passion, or take their skill to the next level. We think it will be a fun and enlightening experience for everyone who joins.”
In other words, all these virtual social connections that Apple technology enables now become real, meaningful and personal at each Apple Store.
Apple joins Starbucks in imagining what a retail store can, and should, be: a place not just to sell things, but where people can connect in a meaningful, personal way. This is an essential evolution of the Apple brand from a product that people use to an experience that changes people’s lives.
Even more profound in the ‘Today at Apple’ program is the way it bridges the gap between the computer ‘technologists’ and the everyday users. We simply don’t speak the same language. Many of the courses, ranging from photo and video to music, coding, art and design, will be taught by a team of what it calls ‘Creative Pros,’ which Apple describes as “the liberal arts equivalent to Apple’s technical Geniuses.” The Creative Pros are brought in for their expertise in one or more areas of the arts, then trained on the technology, so that they can translate the technical features in a way that even a technical newbie can understand.
Personally, I see this strategy aimed right at a huge, largely untapped market for Apple: the Baby Boomers who need and use technology, but can be intimidated by the Apple-shirted ‘kids’ that one often confronts in the Apple Store. In my experience many of them didn’t have the patience or interest in talking to me in a way that I could understand. When I’ve shopped at Apple, I’ve had to take one if my sons along to act as interpreter. These were not happy shopping experiences, I can assure you.
The free programs ‘Today at Apple’ offers include how to use the important features of Apple products, but are laddered for different skill and experience levels. For example, iPhone photography courses start with the basics in six How-To sessions that cover shooting, organizing, editing, and more. But then they step up for more advanced photographers to join experiential Photo Walks that explore sophisticated techniques including light and shadow, portraits and storytelling. And a Photo Lab program is aimed at accomplished photographers covering topics such as capturing candid shots, building a brand on social media or simply sharing their perspective.
Special programs are also offered for children, families and teachers, owing to Apple’s commitment to the educational community. Weekend Kids Hour sessions promise to be fun with learning aimed at music making and coding robots. And teachers will be invited in on Teacher Tuesday to learn how to use technology to enhance learning in the classroom.
With more than 60 different classes planned, Apple is also targeting small business owners in a new Business Circuits program, which should be most helpful for those looking to activate technology to grow business. I know from firsthand experience that small businesses on ‘Main Street’ face a confusing array of choices that most are ill equipped to deal with, like emerging opportunities with mobile technology.
My hat’s off to Angela Ahrendts for reimagining what the Apple Store experience should be. It elevates Apple into a new realm beyond just experiential retail into imagination retail, designed to improve the customers’ lives more than teaching them a few new tricks to use with their iPhones.
In ‘Today at Apple’ Angela creatively explores how Apple can change not just people’s lives, but the whole world. “At Apple, we believe that people with passion can change the world. In an era of social everything, we want to spark possibility and opportunity in the creative arts, in real life, person to person,” Angela writes in a LinkedIn post.
“I can’t imagine a greater influence than inspiring more people to fuel their curiosity and follow their passions. That would truly be leaving the world better than we found it,” Angela says. Who doesn’t want that?