What will Apple’s reinvented Fifth Avenue flagship mean for the brand?

Photo: Apple
Sep 24, 2019
Tom Ryan

Apple on Friday reopened its iconic Fifth Avenue flagship in New York City after a two-year renovation phase that many tech bloggers described as a reinvention.

Better known as “The Cube,” the 77,000-square-foot store, which is 21-feet underground, is now nearly twice as large as before and the ceilings have been raised substantially. 

The extra space will support nearly 900 employees compared to 300 when the store first opened in 2006. The Genius Bar has also been doubled in size.

In a massive Forum space at one end of the store, Apple will host free, daily “Today at Apple” tutorial sessions. The opposite end features a listening room for customers to experience HomePod. An Apple Watch Studio enables consumers to customize their wearable devices.

The rows of wooden tables throughout the store have likewise been significantly expanded with about a quarter dedicated to free space to support socializing and interaction.

From an aesthetic perspective, the store is significantly brighter. Mirror-glass “sky lenses” along with 62 skylights along the ceiling infuse the space with natural light. Tunable white LEDs automatically move between warm and cooler tones based on the time of day. Another call-out in reviews is the stainless-steel spiral staircase that replaced one made of glass. A shimmering elevator provides a view of the sky above.

What will Apple’s reinvented Fifth Avenue flagship mean for the brand?
Photo: Apple

Like other recent redesigned flagships, the store features greenery on the walls and 28 trees to fit the “community space” vibe. Some elements remained the same, such as the Apple logo and glass cube on the street level and the type of stone Steve Jobs chose for the outside.

The opening coincided with the debut of Apple’s newest product offerings, including the iPhone 11 and the latest version of the Apple Watch.

Said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a statement, “Our customers are at the center 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.”

The only Apple store with 24/7/365 operator hours, Apple Fifth Avenue reportedly draws more visitors annually than the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important is it for Apple or other established brands to build palatial showcase flagships at this stage in their growth? What aspects of the renovated Apple Fifth Avenue appear to offer the most appeal?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"[Apple is] still a powerful brand, even if iPhone sales are down, and locations like this one are a key marketing tool."
"Here’s the message for other retailers: When you see a rock star brand hitting it out of the park like Apple ... isn’t it time you do the same?"
"...the brand is all about community, it always has been. Creating a physical statement of that community is just brand compliant if you think about it."

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23 Comments on "What will Apple’s reinvented Fifth Avenue flagship mean for the brand?"

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Zel Bianco

There are not many brands that A.) can afford to do the type of renovation that Apple did at this location and B.) could afford to be in this location in the first place. That piece of Manhattan real estate is ground zero for tourists from all over the world and the Apple store is a must see on the list of what tourists want to do. If this is the bar, then I really feel for retail.

Neil Saunders

From what I have seen, the new store looks fantastic. It is a great showcase for Apple’s products.

I think there are two important considerations.

First, Apple can afford such great stores because it produces great products that people want to buy at fairly full prices; these things work hand in hand to create a compelling proposition. It’s no good having a great store if you have nothing good to offer. Equally, it’s no good trying to sell great product in a poor environment.

Second, Apple understood early on that stores are more than just about selling. They are places where brands can be experienced and where people can learn and interact. That has been a distinct advantage in driving footfall to both the Fifth Avenue store and to Apple’s other locations.

Chris Buecker

Iconic, experiential stores will be important going forward. Apple nowadays lacks innovation in products. The time when they were front-runners in terms of product innovation has gone. What still remains is the strong community Apple has. It will be vital to keep this crowd enthusiastic. E.g. with innovative flagship stores.

Brandon Rael
Change is always a good thing, even for an iconic luxury technology company. Apple was very wise to delay the grand reopening of its NYC Fifth Avenue flagship to around the same time as the iPhone release date. The lines were overwhelming last week, and the excitement around the brand is stronger than ever. Just as other retailers are abandoning Fifth Avenue, Apple, along with Nike, Puma, Adidas and the balance of luxury retailers have recognized the importance of prime NYC physical retail space. There is no better form of media than the physical retail space, where customers can connect, engage, experience, and forge a relationship with the brand beyond the products or services. Even if tourists and NYC locals don’t even buy a single Apple product at the Fifth Avenue store the brand has won, as they are deepening ties and engaging with customers in new and exciting ways. Retail and brand refreshes are just as important as technological transformations. Companies such as Apple always have to stay on the edge of fashion and… Read more »
Mohamed Amer

The Apple brand represents a mindset and worldview that is always in personal discovery mode. It’s about clean and aesthetically pleasant lines and structures; a focus on the experience in which the product offers functional ease in a lifestyle of choice. It’s open, distraction-free and unencumbered. Apple’s Fifth Avenue flagship embodies these qualities as it offers a setting where one’s imagination is set free. Bravo!

Ricardo Belmar
Make no mistake, this flagship Apple store is truly a shrine to the brand – a destination to be experienced at its fullest, not just a place of commerce. Apple is fairly unique in its ability to execute such a massive experiential store. Not many retail brands could do this, let alone afford to invest in it. At the same time, Apple stores have in many ways lost their luster as the reigning king of experiential retail (a label I would now attribute to Nike and their House of Innovation), perhaps a victim of their own success. Many Apple stores have become so busy, and so crowded, that it’s not always an enjoyable experience to visit one if you’re actually shopping for Apple products. Yes, they’ve created innovative ways for some shoppers to get “in and out” with a quick purchase or service appointment, but sometimes you just end up waiting, and waiting, and waiting. This redesigned store looks to turn all of that around and recapture the enjoyment shoppers experienced before. Of course, reports… Read more »
David Weinand

When you have the amount of cash in the bank that Apple does, these types of investments are chump change. That said, Apple is a lifestyle brand and was an early adopter of the idea of “the store as an experience” – so this renovation furthers that strategy. Not every retailer will reap the same benefits – each retailer must look at their model and make decisions based on that, not what others – especially Apple – are doing.

Kevin Graff

Here’s the message for other retailers: When you see a rock star brand hitting it out of the park like Apple, who is also winning most of the retail wars, and they reinvent themselves — isn’t it time you do the same?

Too many retailers rely on old concepts and old thinking. They move too slow. Innovation is slow to be adopted. Lost in-store potential is met with blind eyes.

Winning? Great — now’s the time to reinvent.
Treading water? Better hurry — yesterday was the time to reinvent.
Losing? Sorry to hear that — it may be even too late to reinvent, but don’t go down without a fight!

Dick Seesel

Apple can’t build a store like this everywhere, but it probably learned from the success of its new Chicago showplace that the strategy is worth expanding. It’s still a powerful brand, even if iPhone sales are down, and locations like this one are a key marketing tool.

Lisa Goller

Apple’s urban oasis is perfectly timed to capitalize on holiday sales.

The store’s reinvention as a spacious social hub shows Apple’s passion and hunger to keep growing through its world-class customer experience.

Investing in experiential retail proves Apple really does “think different” to wow consumers and earn top-of-mind status in the fierce consumer electronics category.

Georganne Bender

Apple is in a great place because people are in love with its products and require its services. I was at the Michigan Avenue flagship in Chicago yesterday. It’s beautiful, with tons of glass, and a line of people halfway around the multi-level building waiting to buy the new iPhone.

No one can argue that the store in NYC isn’t amazing. It’s gorgeous. After the first visit I think people will be most impressed with the store being open 24/7/365. That and comfortable areas to wait to see a genius.

Gene Detroyer

NYC has about 70 million visitors a year. Almost 14 million are international. Apple claimed the former cube attracted more tourists than the Statue of Liberty. With its hype, this new cube will attract even more. The cube was a tourist destination and will continue to be.

I certainly don’t know what percent of those standing in line outside the store this week were tourists, but my guess is 80 percent or more. This store is a boast for Apple and their products and it is generating word-of-mouth throughout the world.

And the upside is that they might even sell some products.

Ed Rosenbaum

Apple has outdone themselves with this magnificent building. It will become their major marketing tool. It will be one of the places, if not the one place, visitors will throng. Another tourist attraction drawing thousands daily.

Rich Kizer

Not many can do this, like this. Apple has built the “home planet” where anyone attending will take great pride in telling (and bragging) of their experience in the store. This is so interesting that I think it will inspire intense consumer face-time in the store, and customers will romanticize the products.

Ryan Mathews

Flagship stores are an interesting concept. I’m sure that for many of us, no trip to New York City (that included children at least) was complete without a trip to F.A.O. Schwartz’s flagship store, or the Toys “R” Us store. Well … I think you get my point. Flagships stores are not for every brand at any stage of its growth. Some brands like Apple and Nike have made the concept work well for them. Others, not so much. In terms of the Apple store the brand is all about community, it always has been. Creating a physical statement of that community is just brand compliant if you think about it.

Stephen Rector

It’s very important for brands like Apple to continue to raise the bar in terms of the customer experience and put other brands on notice. The timing of the opening is spot on – not only with the new product launches but with the holidays coming up. The doubling of the Genius Bar and increase in employees is smart, as this will become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city.

Jeff Sward

I think the last sentence answers the question. More visitors than the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. That’s impressive. People, customers, and users all think the store and brand are important. Apple does not ever want to lose that. Flagship stores may have been overdone in the past. Not every brand needs one. This store will serve Apple well.

Brian Cluster

In keeping with its reputation as a leading global brand, Apple has decided to redefine and improve its exemplary standard of customer experience and it has succeeded. NYC is the ideal location to further cement its brand into the minds of the affluent and the world’s leading travelers. Apple has for years been known for its simplicity, creativity, and humanity and it appears that this store delivers across the board. Some of the most important improvements include the “Today at Apple” tutorial sessions and the iHome listening room.

Doug Garnett

Is this a palatial flagship or merely a huge barge they’ll be forced to haul around for years? Only time will tell.

Lacking significant new product opportunities, Apple is focused on tactics. This sounds like it might be a decent tactic — but it’s not ground breaking or new. We are past the point where any consumers are tremendously impressed by flagship stores. That shipped sailed with NikeTown a few decades back.

Casey Golden
2 months 10 days ago

Today, a brand can not afford NOT to have a physical space that embodies the brand and welcomes customers into a world that makes them feel like they are a part of something special. Over the next 5 years, there will be no room for mediocracy in retail. Either elevate, adopt Amazon, or die.

Craig Sundstrom

The poll is neck-and-neck on this one. I think it will turn on late returns in Broward….

Apple’s flagship was important because 1) it was in NYC, 2) it was very cleverly done, and 3) it was endlessly publicized. Everyone, of course can do #1; everyone COULD do #2, but few really do; and #3 is only possible based on how many — or few — do the other two. Simply building a big store at a prominent location, filling it with big TV screens and celebrity visits has become “de rigueur,” but I’m not sure I’d say that equates to “important.” It certainly won’t give much of a competitive advantage.

Kenneth Leung

Apple is known for its experience and it can still afford the space for a flagship in NYC. As it transitions to a mix of service and hardware (phone, pad, watch, computer) and accessories, it needs a great focus hub that can adjusted over time. I think a large open space will allow for more flexibility for different displays in the future, whether it is product demo, education or socialization.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Palatial showcases in and of themselves are not the issue. Whatever the ambiance that is created in a flagship store, only a small percent of customers will experience it. What is critical is identifying critical elements of the design that work for consumer and support the retailers’ purpose that can be replicated at scale throughout retail locations. This is extremely difficult to achieve but critical for establishing and creating customer experience and company image for all customers.

"[Apple is] still a powerful brand, even if iPhone sales are down, and locations like this one are a key marketing tool."
"Here’s the message for other retailers: When you see a rock star brand hitting it out of the park like Apple ... isn’t it time you do the same?"
"...the brand is all about community, it always has been. Creating a physical statement of that community is just brand compliant if you think about it."

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