February 11, 2012
I had three retail store experiences yesterday. After returning home I realized that the pleasurable experiences both shared some common traits. Some retail merchants have similar DNA and it serves them well.
First up I visited an Apple store. The experience there actually began the night before when I reserved the phone I wanted to purchase and selected the time I wished to pick it up. When I arrived the store concierge, upon learning I was there to pick up a reserved item, directed me to one of the available clerks. In a matter of a few minutes the sales transaction was completed -- without even a need for them to ask my name. I signed the terms and conditions agreement, swiped my card, signed my name again, and the phone was mine. When I said yes to a printed receipt the clerk merely reached under the display table and pulled the ticker tape off a concealed printer there.
When I visit an Apple store with no purchase in mind I am allowed to wander the displays and use or play with all the devices. I've read emails, downloaded and installed open source software to see how it looked and performed on computers different from my own, and generally had fun being there. You are invited to linger, to sample, to enjoy.
Next I went to a music store as they are the authorized dealer for a particular brand of cello bow that I am considering buying. The bow manufacturer has three models and I indicated I was interested in the middle model, valued at approximately $750. I was taken to a tiny room which was filled beyond capacity with stringed instruments and show a single sample of the bow. No offer to play it in the store was made. No offer to take it home on approval to play on my instrument was made.
My final merchant visit was another music store, again to look at cello bows. Within moments of my arrival I was comfortably seated with a $7000 cello to play and a case of a dozen $650 ~ $1000 bows to try. Except when I asked a question of the clerk assisting me I was left alone to play and sample and enjoy. Without any prompting from me the store offered to let me take two or three bows home on approval to try with my instrument and with my teacher.
I've visited this particular string instrument store before and have always been invited to try instruments, to wander around and explore, to feel at home. When I got to thinking about it, I realized that what I liked about this store was the same thing I liked about any Apple store I've been too -- a sense of welcoming and inclusion.
The second music store has the same retail DNA that Apple has infused their retail stores with. Stores like the ones Apple has created approach the relationship between customer and store as two people working together toward a common goal. Stores like the first music store have an almost adversarial flavor to them -- if the customer is savvy enough they may get what they wanted, but not through any assistance from the store. The worst examples of this adversarial style approach are car dealerships or furniture galleries.