Last evening brought sad and shocking news--the passing away of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Most media outlets have been devoting a lot of attention to Jobs' contributions to technological innovations, but Jobs had a profound impact on the world of retailing as well.
Apple's retail stores--which recently celebrated their tenth anniversary--have become some of the most successful retail ventures in recent history, bringing in several thousands of dollars in sales per square foot--by far the best record in the industry.
This has been partly due to the popularity of the chain's products, but is also a function of an innovative approach to store merchandising. Apple's stores are bright, open and are teeming with knowledgeable staff members. Very few products are out in the space itself. Instead, there are gadgets that can be played with and when a sale is made, the product is quickly whisked in from a storeroom or shipped directly to a person's home from Apple's warehouse. The stores are experiential rather than simply a machine for moving goods. And that's earned them a devoted following.
The strategy has influenced how other retailers are designing their stores. Disney, for example, looked at Apple stores as inspiration for its new, more interactive store model. It is now in the midst of an aggressive rollout with the new concept.
As a result of Apple stores' phenomenal success, Apple's head of retail Ron Johnson has become a celebrity in the industry, with department store JC Penney recently tapping him to lead its turnaround strategy.
Apple's decision to go into bricks-and-mortar also spearheaded a trend among technology companies, including Microsoft and now also possibly Google.
Lastly, some of the gadgets Apple has pioneered--including the iPhone and the iPad--have also helped bring mall shopping into the 21st century and ushered in the era of smartphones and tablets that has grown to be a competitive and cluttered field. The competition is driving new innovation from Apple and others. Today it's possible to use smartphones to check whether stores carry the product that you want, compare prices on the same product from different retailers and even make purchases right from your mobile device. Smarthpones are also enhancing the in-mall experience, which will bring in a new era of customer experience and service to brick-and-mortar locations. Most malls already come with their own iPhone app in place and features and functionality are being added every day.
That's in large part the legacy of Steve Jobs in our sector.