apple store

Apr 15

Apple & the customer’s shoes

Those who get what made Steve Jobs tick understand his devotion to the customer experience.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it was his highest priority — and it went far beyond the products.

Steve believed that everything a customer sees, feels or touches is an opportunity to connect them more deeply to the brand. Absolutely everything. When he reviewed a piece that would run in a magazine, for example, he cared as much about the quality of the paper as he did the message of the ad.

Even if it was something that didn’t register with a customer consciously, he knew it was having an effect.

In all my advertising life, I’d never seen the CEO of a major company focus on so many aspects of the customer experience — from ads to packaging to retail design to tech support.

His technique was pretty darn simple: he put himself in the customer’s shoes. Continue reading →

May 14

The online Apple Store’s humble beginnings

The latest numbers show that in 2013, Apple rose to #2 in online retail, second only to Amazon.

Not all that amazing, given that iTunes and App Store sales are now included in Apple’s figures.

But, given the humble beginnings of the Apple Store, it does give me that “how far we’ve come” feeling.

It all started with a baby step back in the “Think different” years, even before the first iMac appeared.

In those days, Apple made its big announcements with multipage inserts in magazines like Time and Newsweek. Apple creating an online store was indeed big news — though not quite big enough to merit its own insert.

The piece you see here was titled “Think different. Really different.” Within its pages, Apple announced three bits of news: Continue reading →

Sep 12

The fanatics behind “Sh*t Apple Fanatics Say”

There are two reasons why you might laugh at Shit Apple Fanatics Say: you know people like this, or you are people like this.

No matter what team you root for — Mac, PC, iOS, Android — it’s hard not to see truth in this video. Truth, of course, is what makes funny things funnier.

The viral success of this video (over 800,000 views in just a few days) made me want to find out more. So I flung myself into deep investigative journalism mode — which in this case consisted of hitting the Send button on an email to Scott Rose, one of the video’s creators. Continue reading →

Mar 12

Apple’s momentary lapse of reason

As we all know (and Wall Street knows), Apple is a well-oiled machine these days. Unfortunately, there seems to be a screw loose down in the shipping dept.

This is the story of my friend Sam in Tucson, who was anxiously awaiting the scheduled March 16th delivery of his gorgeous new personalized iPad.

On March 14th, just two days before his delivery date, Sam received the above email from Apple. Even after he read it a few times, he was scratching his head.

For starters, it was riddled with typos. Not one or two, but six. Given Apple’s perfectionist standards, surely someone’s head would roll as a result. (Just three hours later, Sam received another email owning up to the errors. Continue reading →

Jan 12

Ron Johnson tries the Apple magic at JCP

When Ron Johnson left Apple several months ago, there was an audible gasp from the Apple community.

After all, Ron was one of Steve Jobs’s most important hires — the man who created the Apple Stores from scratch and led their amazing growth. It’s not like that was his first gig, either. Before that, Ron was the guy who gave Target its cool.

So it was a big blow to Apple when Ron left after 11 stellar years. And it was a big wow for JCPenney when Ron signed on as their new CEO.

For many, Ron’s move was a disconnect. Why would someone jump from the world’s coolest retail store to a stodgy department store chain?

Well, you’re about to find out. Today is the day that Ron, after less than three months on the job, unveils his plans to turn JCPenney into … well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.

Ron’s big day starts out with a two-page ad in major papers (above). This is his Think different moment, where he puts forth the philosophy that will guide JCPenney under his leadership.

The details will be revealed during a series of presentations today in New York. But from firsthand experience, I can testify that when Ron talks about what makes a great shopping experience, you start believing.

Either a bit of that old distortion field rubbed off on him, or he really is a retail genius. I’m thinking the latter.

If it sounds like I’m a Ron fan, you’re absolutely right. Ron is a genuinely good guy with serious smarts and a ton of energy. I didn’t want to taint this story up front, but I’ve been sneaking about in the background helping Ron’s team — starting with today’s “In praise of fresh air” ad. (Design credit goes to Michael Rylander, who, by the way, runs a really cool design-centric blog.)

So now, after I’ve critiqued many other people’s ads here, I am ready to be judged. Just try to keep it civil, okay?

Aug 11

Apple’s invisible advantage

Back in June, Apple covered up its landmark Fifth Avenue Cube in NY to begin a $6.6 million renovation project. The word was that they would be re-outfitting the glass cube itself — reducing it from 90 panes to a mere 15. Bigger pieces, fewer seams.

Now they’ve released an artist’s conception, above.

Looks pretty cool. But I’ve already noticed some snide comments to the effect of “$6 million? For that?” … “Apple has way too much money to play around with” … and “Hell, they just built the place less than five years ago.”

Those who think this way really don’t get Apple. They don’t get why a company that makes cool little devices just became more valuable than one that supplies the world with the energy essential to life.

For everything you see in Apple, there are a hundred things you don’t see — all of which add up to the feel of quality and caring you don’t get from other companies. It’s a subconscious effect that Apple pursues quite consciously.

I had the pleasure of working on the “Making Of” video for the Cube, which appeared on when the store was first opened. That video called out the extraordinary effort that went into procuring the quality components necessary to create this store: the stone flooring from Sicily, the stainless steel surfaces from Tokyo, and the glass staircase and cube structure from Germany.

Apple doesn’t expect a single visitor to the Fifth Avenue Cube to think much about the floor they’re walking on. What they’re trying to do is create an overall feeling — that this is a place where people care about design and quality.

It’s the same principle Apple uses when they design product packaging. For items like iPhones and iMacs, they create an “unboxing experience” you will appreciate only once, lavishing attention on parts few people will ever notice. But overall, the experience contributes to the feeling of quality you get before you even touch the product.

Granted, some people think this is overkill. Or, even worse, it’s one more reason to hate Apple. This is how the Great Satan hoodwinks people into buying their overpriced technology.

Fortunately, Apple doesn’t give a hoot about people who don’t recognize or care about quality. That’s not their audience.

As long as they continue to care about the invisible things, the crowds in those Apple Stores will be anything but invisible.

Jun 11

Apple loses a good one

Ron Johnson is one talented man.

After turning Target into what it is today, he was largely responsible for taking Apple from zero retail stores to a phenomenally successful global chain of over 300 today. That’s one hell of a resumé.

Honestly, I was shocked to hear that Ron was leaving Apple to become CEO of J.C. Penney. That’s because I couldn’t imagine anyone in his line of work having a better gig. He makes boatloads of money, which will become tanker-ships of money as his stock and annual vesting continue to pile up, and he runs what is widely considered  the gold standard of retail, selling the world’s coolest products.

That’ll teach me to impose my values on someone else’s life.

But now that I’ve read more about Ron’s decision, I do get it. It’s been an exhilarating ride, but he’s eager to try his hand at being Number One. As many will testify, it’s not easy working under Steve, and one has to follow his own dream.

It was pretty cool that J.C. Penney’s stock jumped up over 10% on the news of Ron’s hiring. And why not. For a retailer sorely in need of an excitement infusion, Ron represents the ultimate upgrade.

The analysts’ reactions seem to be 100% positive on Ron and J.C. Penney, as they should be. The quotes from all parties involved are super-positive, as they should be.

Of course, nobody can predict how these things will really play out. The only thing we do know is that it’s pretty darn tough to instill new values in an old organization. It takes  vision, talent, energy and rare leadership skills.

One of J.C. Penney’s board members referred to Ron today as “the Steve Jobs of retail.” Great sentiment, but (a) Steve Jobs is actually the Steve Jobs of retail, and (b) Mickey Drexler was already nicknamed the Steve Jobs of retail a while back. (We may just have to let them fight it out.) We know that the Apple Stores would never be what they are without Ron, but we also know that the Apple Stores reflect Steve’s minimalist tastes and assorted obsessions.

Being a brilliant retail thinker doesn’t necessarily make one a great CEO. Entirely different skill sets. But I had the pleasure of engaging with Ron for a brief period, and from my experience I think he has a good shot at winning the hearts and minds of the J.C. Penney family.

What happens to the Apple Stores without Ron? Fortunately, there’s a huge difference between inventing an idea from scratch and taking over an existing organization. The Apple Stores are now a well-oiled machine, and the lines for this job opening may be as long as the lines for iPad 2. Hopefully they’ll find someone who’s a good match for the Apple culture.

So happy trails, Ron, and a big thanks for making retail history at Apple. You deserve this opportunity. I don’t think I’ll be shopping at J.C. Penney anytime soon, but I promise to keep an open mind.