Manhattan, US: After two years of makeover, the iconic Fifth Avenue Apple store has opened up to the public again.
Built from the ground up and deeper into what was earlier known as the sunken plaza in the heart of Manhattan, the new Apple store is twice the size of the predecessor, offering more space for product displays and new customer experiences.
The store's re-opening coincides with the availability of Apple's latest iPhone 11 line up and Apple Watch Series 5 in the US.
Opened first in 2006 by then CEO Steve Jobs, the Fifth Avenue store has been considered a major landmark in retail world and had become a major tourist destination for many Apple fans.
The new store's main entrance is built inside the glass cube with a spiral stainless steel staircase leading down to the shop floor.
The top of the staircase is surrounded by mirror glass panels that create multiple reflections almost like 'house of mirrors' as one strides down into the store. The other major design upgrade is the store's ceiling which is now higher than before (from the floor) and is decked with 18 mirror-glass structures called Skylenses and 62 opaque glass structures called Skylights.
While the ceiling itself is backlit with thousands of LED lights hidden underneath the curved fabric, it is the Skylenses and Skylight that ensure the natural light reaches and remains amply available inside the store. The LED lights in the ceiling are designed to constantly match the colour temperature so they align with the changes in natural lighting outside, as the day progresses.
The store also offers some unique customer experiences including sessions on photography, videography and music. These will be used to engage with the local community of enthusiasts and artists. One can register for these sessions at Apple website. The store now has a bigger space dedicated for technical support and advice too.
"Our customers are at the centre of everything we do, and Apple Fifth Avenue is for them, to inspire them, and to provide the very best place to discover our newest products. It’s unique among Apple stores, and today it returns even more welcoming, and even more beautiful than ever," Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO said in an official press statement.
With the new design elements, Apple is trying to blur the lines between the indoor and outdoor experience, so customers don't feel trapped inside the store, pointed out Stefan Behling, senior executive partner and architect at Foster+Partners, the architecture firm behind the redesigning.
"Apple's stores in every city of the world are known for their design, look & feel, size and location. But more than that, they are known for the retail experience they provide with portfolio of Apple products, the Genius staff, and classes on photography and music," points out Navkendar Singh, Research Director, India & South Asia at IDC (International Data Corporation) India.
The online challenge:
The strong growth in online market in recent years, has made a big dent in offline sales, making many brands to reevaluate their offline strategy.
Apple, on the other hand, has been opening more stores in newer markets and at landmark locations like Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square, Washington DC. With stores at these famous addresses, Apple has been smartly entrenching itself in some of the most iconic landmarks and busy public centres.
"Offline stores are not just selling points, these are brand icons, marketing 'mascots', consumer touchpoints and above all the experience centres. So, opening them despite online becoming increasingly popular, makes sense, and will continue, even if the density goes down," believes Faisal Kawoosa, chief analyst and founder techARC.
Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research agrees that as people spend more on high-end devices they want to have a look and feel of the product before buying. In such a scenario, the presence of a physical store for premium products is critical for any brands long term channel strategy, adding, "more than footfall it's more about consumer awareness and other ecosystem products and services which brands can pitch to consumers if they have touchpoints in physical retail."
Apple has recently announced it's new subscription services like Apple Arcade for gamers and Apple TV+. The new store has a dedicated zone for Apple Arcade where customers can experience the exclusive games firsthand.
How it boosts Apple's India strategy:
Despite its strong brand value, enriching customer experience and exciting product portfolio, Apple is still trying to find a foothold in India, a market where ASP (average selling price) of smartphones is under $200 and much lower than that of iPhones.
The absence of the iconic Apple stores in India due to the stringent FDI regulations is another missing piece in the puzzle that could have helped Apple connect with the local community better. The earlier FDI policy required 30% of the value of goods to be procured from India by all SBRT (single brand retail trade) entity with FDI above 51%.
However, in a major reprieve to Apple and other SBRT entities, in August 2019, the Government of India relaxed the policy on mandatory sourcing from local markets, allowing them to keep local sourcing down to 10% as long as they are exporting 20% of their products to other markets. This will make opening it's stores in India a lot easier for Apple.
According to reports, Apple has conveyed to the government that it will set up three brick-and-mortar stores in India in addition to an online store in line with its 'global experience' centres for Apple-branded products. Apple is yet to confirm or make an official statement on this report.
"All these things if Apple is able to bring in India, will certainly drive footfalls and walkins from all consumer segments. It will further add on to the super premium halo that Apple enjoys as a brand in India," feels Singh.
While people are buying products online out of convenience, variety and discounts, a large part of India's demography like to experience them first. Singh points out that many customers like to touch, feel and see the product before putting their money on it. Which is why offline presence is very critical in a diverse and large country like India.
Apple's iconic stores and the experiences they offer have inspired rival tech companies into being more creative with their own retail outlets as well. Samsung's Opera House in Bangalore, which opened in 2018 is designed like an opera theatre and is their biggest experience store in the World. OnePlus is reportedly building a six storeyed store with footprint of 16,000 sq ft in Hyderabad.
Despite the experts predicting the death of offline retail time and again, retail stores are not going away anytime soon. Stores like the one on Fifth Avenue just confirms that offline retail stores, particularly in technology space, have still got a lot to offer to consumers.
The iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max will be available in India starting 27 September.