Apple’s Secret for Creating Insanely Loyal Customers

Jun 18, 2012

One of the ways Apple Stores drives interactivity for customers in-store is by positioning the retina display on all of its MacBook Pro notebooks at exactly the same angle, according to Carmine Gallo, a communications coach and author of The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty.

In a column in Forbes, Mr. Gallo asserts that part of the reason employees who open the store use an iPhone app (Simply Angle) to create a slight-angle positioning for each notebook display is for aesthetic reasons. But the main reason, he believes, is "to encourage customers to adjust the screen to their ideal viewing angle — in other words, to touch the computer!"

While Apple Stores regularly gets plaudits for friendly and knowledgeable staff and attractive store designs, Mr. Gallo said, such interactive touches create "multisensory experiences" that a crucial part of the chain’s wild success.

Another way interactivity is encouraged is having machines that are all plugged in and loaded with software and apps along with free Internet access. Wrote Mr. Gallo, "Customers in an Apple Retail Store can spend all the time they want playing with the devices and using the internet — nobody will pressure them to leave."

Finally, a more subtle technique is having trainers in "One to One" workshops avoid touching the customer’s computer unless absolutely necessary to steer them to discover solutions themselves. Wrote Mr. Gallo, "The Apple Store was never created on the premise that people want to buy stuff. Instead Apple discovered that by creating an ownership experience, customers would be more loyal to the brand."

By comparison, he points to how Best Buy’s devices are all turned off in the store. Still, he cited Build-A-Bear, which helps children build their own stuffed animal, as an example of how interactivity can be fostered outside the electronics space. Wrote Mr. Gallo, "Apple has learned what many other businesses are just beginning to figure out — make it fun for people to connect with your product using all their senses."

A USA Today article last year, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the opening of the first Apple Store, cited former Apple chiefs Ron Johnson’s attention to design and staff training among the reasons for the chain’s success. But it also cited Mr. Johnson’s vision of create environments where consumers could discover products on their own. Gary Allen, who runs the website, which tracks Apple Store openings, told USA Today, "His first take on the products was that they were so good they would sell themselves."

Discussion Questions: To what degree can retailers in other categories do more to create “multi-sensory” experiences? Can you think of some examples where in-store interactivity can be applied in categories other than electronics?

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19 Comments on "Apple’s Secret for Creating Insanely Loyal Customers"

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Bob Phibbs

Walt Disney was one of the masters of experience retailing long before there was the “can do no wrong” Apple mystique. Apple, with killer design, “have to have item of the month,” brilliant iconic advertising, raving fans and the like, the products do indeed sell themselves.

Is there any retailer? Anyone else who has such a unique niche in the world marketplace? No.

It’s Apple’s products that keep us coming back for more, not the position of the display. Just like it’s Mickey, not “some” mouse that keeps us going back to Disneyland.

Dick Seesel

Car dealers figured out a long time ago that shoppers are more likely to buy after a test drive. So it doesn’t take a moment of genius to figure out that the same principle will apply in the Apple Store. The only surprise is the failure of competitors to provide the same sort of interactive experience, because the benefits are obvious.

Aside from the interactive environment of the Apple Store, the simplicity of the process is another loyalty-building strength. I bought a new MacBook Pro for my college-age daughter last week — because she knew what she wanted (not the retina-display model, thankfully), the Apple sales associate made the entire process as efficient as possible. He was absolutely focused on our satisfaction, even in the middle of a very busy store.

Verlin Youd

It still baffles me that clothing stores that cater to men or where men may buy gifts for others seem to continue to focus exclusively on labor hour efficiencies and miss the boat on training required to help the shopper by understanding their needs and providing “expert” advice and counsel to meet that and adjacent needs. Clothing retailers share a natural environment for providing a multi-sensory experience, however, actual practice seems to be going in the other direction.

Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, farmer’s markets and other grocers have discovered that the multi-sensory experience drives customer experience, value, loyalty, and purchases. Plenty of other supermarkets can apply some basic principals to hire and train helpful and agreeable staff, make products easy to find, and ensure adequate staff to keep checkout quick and smooth.

Obviously, there are other retail segments that could use some focus on the providing an appropriate multi-sensory experience, including Drug Stores, Food Service, and Mass Merchandise.

Max Goldberg

Getting potential consumers to touch the product is always a great way to begin a transactional engagement. The more senses that can be utilized, the better.

Joe Nassour
Joe Nassour
5 years 4 months ago

The key to Apple’s success was the understanding of the consumer and their needs, and satisfying the basic need for being interactive. You see that in other retailers like Costco and and Wegmans.

If a retailer first truly understands that kernel of truth for the consumer, then that retailer will be more successful in the long run.

Ken Lonyai
I’ll respond to this post from two perspectives…. First, I don’t see Apple doing things that are so extraordinary. Rather, they execute well on basics, logic, attention to detail, and user experience. What really makes the Apple store experience stand out is the fact that the company has superior marketing and the ability to enforce its customer focused policy across its roster of store locations. Shoppers walk into an Apple store already primed to believe they will have a great experience and store management executes well to see that their expectations are met. That is the essence of user experience: meeting user expectations. What helps Apple further is the fact that most other stores across most other categories don’t get it — they fail on the obvious and focus on cost cutting, gimmicks, inferior management/policy, poor implementation of technology, etc. If they got their act together, Apple would not seem special at all. And again… this NOT rocket science, this is thinking of the customer first, executing well, and everyone wins. Best Buy for example, will never ever get it, LBO or not. Regarding in-store interactivity, hmmm… as the originator of LiftOff — the system where you pick up an… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
5 years 4 months ago

The key phrase in the article is “creating the ownership experience.” The multi-sensory experience in the store is a part of this and demonstrates the level of detail and rigor that goes into every aspect of developing and managing the overall experience. Starbucks is another example of this overall experience. The point is that it is not one thing, it is the culture of the company.

Steve Montgomery

Customer involvement has always been a key to growing sales. This is true whether it is trying on clothes, sampling product, or selling electronics. As has been pointed out, the trick is in the execution. We all know the mantra — retail is detail and execution is the key.

Robert DiPietro

An example of in-store interactivity that comes to mind is the Home Depot workshops. They teach you how to do things, then sell the supplies and tools to do them.

The most important thing for a retailer is to engage the customer with the products and services in a non-salesy way. Then assist them with the buying decision, versus trying to sell them something.

Zel Bianco

Yes, Williams Sonoma does a great job in getting customers involved with preparing food. It surprises me that Whole Foods does not try to do this in some simple, easy to implement way.

Doug Fleener

I think the Apple stores are a great experience, but it does start with great design and great product. The Microsoft stores are knock offs and we aren’t discussing them. I would also point out that Bose created a hands-on retail store before Apple.

I believe most well run specialty stores have interactivity as a key element of their in-store experience. We work with a chain of women’s boutiques, and we know that if get the handbag on her shoulder it increases the sell through. Same for jewelry and fashion. You want to sell more clothes, you want to get the customer trying them on.

Bill Hanifin

Creating an interactive environment should become standard procedure for electronics retailers.

The one flaw in the strategy for Apple, in my opinion, is that the retail stores have become what coffee shops were before limits were placed on wireless use.

Apple may have to seek a better balance between interactivity and customer experience in-store. It is often very difficult to find help and to navigate the store with so many squatters passing time at devices while their friends shop in other areas of the mall.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
5 years 4 months ago

The idea of letting the customer explore while shopping makes total sense. Apple and Build-A-Bear are two great examples. Some other ideas to consider:

Outdoor Sports shop: Have a fly fishing pond in the back of the store to let customers try out a rod and the overall experience of fly fishing. Rifle range in-store for customers to try out different guns and bows available for purchase.

Women’s clothing store: Set up a blue screen where customers could try on outfits and view different backgrounds to see how it looks for a specific occasion. Night club, Office, wedding, walking in central park, sailing, etc… Let her experience what the outfit will look like in a scene she imagines.

Cooking store: Rather than a cooking demo, let the customers try their hand at making something. Create an open kitchen.

Loyalty has a lot to do with experience. If you create a hands on experience that customers feel comfortable in you are bound to build a stronger relationship.

Craig Sundstrom

Interesting that this appeared the same day as the “showrooming” article — or perhaps I should say “a” showrooming article, since there have been many (and will be many more). Does making your store more “Apple-like” help to counter showrooming tendencies, or does it just make you an even bigger (i.e. poorer) sucker?

Vahe Katros

I am always on the look out for those moments in a store where I sense that someone has really thought through the experience — the moments where I just smile and say, “Of course it had to be that way.” The moments where I wonder if they have a VP of deja vu?

Deja vu moments are born from intuitive story tellers. So if you are the director of your own movie, do you tilt the screens?

Matt Schmitt

Beauty products and fashion are ripe for leveraging multi-sensory experiences. Using digital media in the store (both passive and interactive) is now gaining more traction with retailers and brands looking to differentiate their store experience and to further engage shoppers.

Also, including the physical store as part of omnichannel marketing efforts is a big part of strategies going forward. Retailers and brands are combining their mobile, social, and web efforts (virtual) with their in-store (physical) execution to tie together their shoppers’ experience into a connected journey.

Martin Mehalchin

REI does a great job of this at their Seattle flagship and some of their other “A” stores. The Seattle flagship features include a climbing wall, a mountain bike test track, an outdoor themed kids play area, and meeting rooms for local outdoor and environmental themed events.

Kai Clarke

Presentation, presentation, presentation. That is what Apple does great. The customer experience is about look, touch, feel and presentation. In the Apple world everything else comes second, including the ability to purchase the product (there are always lines to purchase a product in an Apple store).

Christopher Krywulak
Christopher Krywulak
5 years 3 months ago

I would agree with Doug Fleener’s comment that “Apple’s Secret” begins with great design and great products. There’s no denying that the Apple store experience is excellent, but Apple is in an enviable position where their customer base is already loyal — loyal to the products it makes before being loyal to the “store.” David Segal of the New York Times wrote an excellent expository piece last week on the Apple store workforce that illustrates how enviable Apple’s position is in the retail world. The company reaps astronomical sales per square foot and yet it does not pay its salespeople commissions. Nobody this profitable in the physical retail space does that. So it’s unfair to simply ask, “Why can’t Best Buy stores be as successful as Apple stores?” What Best Buy — and all retailers — must do, however, is identify what elements of the Apple store experience are worth imitating: convenience (in-store pick up and returns of online purchases), customer service (always someone available to help you), troubleshooting (Genius Bar for repairs and consultation) and efficiency (anywhere in store mobile checkout) are good places to start.


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