Writing in the Harvard Business Review earlier this week, Ron Johnson talks about his experience building the Apple Stores. Who is Johnson? He used to be the SVP for retail at Apple and now is the CEO of JC Penney department stores. Going from the height of cool to running a second-tier department store chain might be an odd career move, but it makes sense when you read his post. This is a man who likes challenges.
Johnson says, "You don't need to stock iPads to create an irresistible retail environment." Instead, you need to have a store that people want to visit as a destination by itself. Given that many of us are hitting these stores today, it is worth thinking about a bit more. Think about this for a moment: I am sure many of you are aware exactly where the nearest Apple store is in your town. And many of you are more apt to visit those locations just to see the local vibe, even if you don't have anything that you "need" at the moment. That is what destination shopping is all about.
Now, granted I doubt many of you are thinking the same thing about your local JC Penney's. Perhaps this is the wrong readership to ask this of, but still. I couldn't even tell you the last time I shopped there. (That is somewhat unfair, because I don't shop for anything anywhere, as my wife can attest to. But, you get my point.) That is Johnson's challenge as he is trying to remake the Penney's retail experience going forward.
"People come to the Apple Store for the experience, and they're willing to pay a premium for that," he says. Apple doesn't discount its products at its stores, unlike BestBuy or Walmart or even Amazon. People (including some of our own staffers) will wait hours in line to buy their iThings, and even blog about the experience of waiting in line and who was there just so they can be the first to tell you all about the latest product. There isn't any other computer product that I can think of that has that kind of fanboy buzz. Certainly, some games and movies reach those heights, but a phone?
I asked around the staff and most of us here have never bought anything from Apple at anyplace outside of either the Apple store or Apple.com. I presently own a grand total of seven Apple products, and several others that I have bought over the years that are no longer with me. All of them have been purchased online from Apple, or in the case of one iPhone, from AT&T.com.
Johnson says in his post that retailers (including Penney's) should be asking, "How do we reinvent the store to enrich our customers' lives?" Not, how can they upsell or cross-sell more stuff. He talks about when Apple first opened their storefronts, their Genius Bar was empty of customers. It took three years before customers discovered what was being offered. Now you need a reservation to get to a support person there. Granted, that could be because the support offered at Best Buy et al. is so miserable. But again, give Apple credit for understanding how to keep people in the store and hanging out. There are even YouTube videos about performance artists that have tried to do a variety of odd things in the Apple store, such as get pizzas delivered or get married. It is a marquee destination of our times.
Good luck Penney's.