Ron Johnson, the architect behind the Apple Retail Stores, has moved on to be CEO of JC Penney. But, he still remembers the lessons he learned while at Apple.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Johnson reflects on what makes the Apple Store unique:
People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they're willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important — and this is something that can translate to any retailer — is that the staff isn't focused on selling stuff, it's focused on building relationships and trying to make people's lives better. That may sound hokey, but it's true. The staff is exceptionally well trained, and they're not on commission, so it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you're happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it's a product Apple doesn't carry. Compare that with other retailers where the emphasis is on cross-selling and upselling and, basically, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don't want or need it. That doesn't enrich their lives, and it doesn't deepen the retailer's relationship with them. It just makes their wallets lighter.
Perhaps as a hint toward the direction he intends to take JC Penney, Johnson ends by noting that "the retailers that win the future are the ones that start from scratch and figure out how to create fundamentally new types of value for customers."