Apple Stores: Experience Design = Great. Reality = Aaagh!

Rory Cellan-Jones writes over at the BBC dot.Rory blog today about the emergence of the Microsoft facsimile of the Apple retail store experience. I contend that we shouldn’t fawn too much over the Cupertino firm’s success here.

I am an Apple fan, albeit one without the disposable cash to have actually bought one of their computers. I have bought several iPods and my iPhone at the Apple retail store. My local store is Kingston [photo: a typical Saturday] and I suspect this store is representative of their mall units in the UK. It’s wonderfully designed inside with clear experience design – the analysis of which is covered well here. The reality is that the store is incredibly popular and consequentially the experience takes a pounding. I’d love to spend time browsing the Apple TV interface and discovering if the paucity of content has improved to the point that I might buy one. But I can’t because on a Saturday I’m lucky if after 5 minutes of trying I have actually managed to get near it. There are lots of teenagers who have absolutely no intention of purchasing nor the money to do so but they’re in the store in their hundreds. They stand two-three deep around £1500 machines taking photos of their faces and warping them, updating their Facebook status’ “in the Apl str, LOL” and generally cooling my enthusiasm for the brand.

Of course I can see that these teenage browsers are prospects themselves in a few years’ time or – through their parents’ wallets – in the near future. I’m not really attempting to make an assessment of the financial success of the Apple store (for which a selection of financials need to be considered). What I am really trying to draw attention to is that we are often a little too quick to wax on about such experiences without actually thinking them through by actually experiencing it. This means ethnographic reporting following a field trip out to the store with a given sequence of tasks to perform/observe. A report under these conditions would surely reveal more about the service experience than the  blind hyperbole of jumping on that jolly popular bandwagon.

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