Will Apple get customers to go back to school?

Photo: Apple
May 18, 2017

Less than a year after Apple began dropping the word “Store” from its storefronts to drive home the impression that its retail outlets are for more than just buying products, the company has launched an initiative to draw customers in — not with merchandise, but with an opportunity to learn something.

Apple launched the “Today at Apple” initiative in all 495 Apple stores (271 in the U.S.) in May, according to Recode. The program expands the existing learning workshops already available at some Apple stores, offering classes that instruct customers on using iPads, Macs and other Apple products to take on creative tasks like drawing, painting and making music.

Customers can sign up for the free classes by visiting the “Today at Apple” portion of the Apple website and choosing from listings at stores in their area. Apple has hosted free “how to” classes for some time. These will continue under the new plan, with upgrades. But the new offerings go beyond simple guidance on using products and apps to school students on such areas as coding and design. And Tuesday night sessions, according to Recode, will be dedicated to courses designed for teachers.

Under the guidance of Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail, Apple has taken numerous steps to upgrade the look and feel of its stores. In addition to the name change, prototype stores opened last year with such features as floor-to-ceiling screens and wooden tables to replace the familiar white. In these stores, an area called “The Avenue” offers customers the opportunity to walk past rows of wooden displays to try out different products.

Ms. Ahrendts has made statements likening her vision for the Apple store to a “town square” where people can gather. The addition of in-store classes appears to be in keeping with this concept.

When Ms. Ahrendts’ came on at Apple in mid-2014, her background as the CEO of Burberry led to speculation that the impending redesign of the Apple store would be based on a luxury look and feel meant to appeal to customers of the recently introduced Apple Watch. But initiatives like “Today at Apple” indicate that the concept of the redesigned store was not pegged to the wearables market.

In addition to the store redesign and move toward a “town square” feel, Apple has introduced three new store-level positions to its job hierarchy — Pro, Creative Pro and Technical Expert.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will holding classes create a meaningful, sustained draw to the Apple store? Are there other areas of retail where the strategy of holding classes would serve as a customer draw?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Offering classes will bring customers into Apple stores as well as give them the opportunity to try (and desire) new Apple products."
"As humans, we define ourselves more by what we experience, than by what we purchase. The root of shopping is community."
"Whether Ahrendts’ vision of a town square within the stores comes to fruition remains to be seen."

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15 Comments on "Will Apple get customers to go back to school?"

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Mark Ryski

Apple is in the enviable position to experiment with activities like “Today at Apple” that will undoubtedly draw people to their stores. Purely from a sales standpoint these activities can actually detract from selling, but clearly Apple is less concerned about comp sales than they are about creating a sustainable community. This is an interesting initiative for Apple and completely in line with Ahrendts’ strategy.

I would be very curious to see what impact this has on store traffic and conversion rate trends. Offering in-store training is not new — the home improvement category has been successfully doing this for years. The question is, how will Apple’s initiative ultimately connect with business results?

Charles Dimov

The smartest thing Apple is doing by holding classes is creating a standout customer experience. Nobody likes to be sold to. They are not selling to you. Everyone wants to be helped. They are there for you.
People crave excellent experiences. Shoppers associate that great experience with the product and it drives demand. Better yet, premium quality and priced demand. Core steps for omnichannel retail. Great lessons for us all!

Dave Bruno

I am extremely passionate about and encouraged by this news. Apple, as usual, is on exactly the right path with their retail “stores.” They understand that brick-and-mortar must be more than a transaction hub, and that differentiating from online competition means giving people a compelling reason to come to the store.

These classes are a perfect example of the store adding tangible value to shoppers lives, which I strongly believe to be the key to the future of retail.

Art Suriano
Back in the early ’90s Apple had a big jump on the education market, but as the company began having challenges a few years later they lost ground to the competition. Today many schools use either PCs or have begun, most recently, using Google laptops. Apple still has a presence in schools but not like the ’90s. So providing learning opportunities in-store is very smart. Of course it’s not just the kids but also adults who want to learn how to use the many features and benefits Apple products provide. The biggest advantage is that Apple offers classes for free. So a customer is more inclined to purchase a product like their first iPad or computer knowing they will receive free training. Food stores have been providing cooking classes which are another great benefit, but most of the time there is a fee involved. Many retailers should think about how to educate the customer about the products they sell because it’s a great way to motivate them into making purchases. I could see home centers… Read more »
Chris Petersen, PhD.

Apple is one of the retail success stories that stands in stark contrast to Amazon’s march to eat the rest of retail.

The strategy of holding a broader range of classes is significant in four ways:

  1. It expands the customer experience that Apple uses to draw people to its stores;
  2. It is hands-on marketing for new products and an opportunity to explain to customers why they need to upgrade;
  3. Classes for teachers is pure genius … the teachers will take Apple back to the next wave of Apple customers in the classroom where Apple has been losing ground to Google;
  4. The fourth reason might be the most significant of all. Stores need to attract superior talent who can create a differentiated customer experience.

By adding three more positions Apple expands the career path that it can use to attract and retain talent. There is a reason Apple has the lowest staff turnover in retail … and this the expanded career path is huge factor in this age where store talent can make all the difference.

Anne Howe

As humans, we define ourselves more by what we experience, than by what we purchase. The root of shopping is community. Apple is applying these two principles in exactly the right way.

Jasmine Glasheen

Education is a commodity and this is exactly the type of initiative that I champion to bring customers into stores. By offering free design and coding classes to customers, Apple is creating a community centered around their products while sustaining customer engagement. Since Apple products are high price-point purchases that need to be bought less often, offering classes will bring customers into Apple stores as well as give them the opportunity to try (and desire) new Apple products.

Harley Feldman

Apple has been very successful bringing customers to the store where they are not only able to talk to associates knowledgeable about Apple products, but where they can take classes on how to use the products. Now with “Today at Apple”, they have made it easy to find classes of interest at the consumer’s local Apple store and the topics have been expanded. Apple continues to expand its user base into a community of users based on the “town hall” concept. As the customers become smarter and more comfortable in the use of Apple products they will get more enjoyment from them and likely entrench the user into the Apple family for a long time.

Any product or tool that is complex to use effectively would benefit from holding classes. Some of the home stores use classes to help customers better use their tools on repair or building tasks.

JJ Kallergis
Let me get this out of the way in the beginning … I am not an Apple fanboy (gasp). With that being said, Angela Ahrendts is employing a smart strategy to drive repeat visits and enhance the customer experience through value-add classes that showcase the capabilities and inspire possibilities with Apple products and accessories. I think overall since Steve Jobs passed, consumer excitement has subsided a little and the pace of innovation has certainly slowed. So in order to reestablish a stronger emotional connection with its consumers, which has been its main competitive advantage in the past (technical superiority was never a strength), the Today at Apple initiative should be helpful. Will it materially impact sales? Likely not, but long-term it should help to maintain the relevance of the Apple brand, which I see fading in recent years on both the Education front (Chromebook) and consumer front (Surface Pro). With regards to the last question posed, other areas of retail have successfully employed this strategy in the past. For example, take Sur la Table, which… Read more »
Tom Redd

This is already old material for operations like The Home Depot and Michaels. Apple could do this if they could cut the chaos inside their “stores” and use real trainers. I quit getting advice/training at the stores when I found that I was helping the Apple person more than they helped me. They also were not trained to train. There was no structure, with total rookies in a session and somewhat more advanced people. One person did not even know how to turn on the Mac — this was in an Aperture session. There is a bigger chance of a fail here than a win, unless they re-think it. Not all Apple store people are “smart.”

Tom Erskine
5 years 10 months ago

Yes, this will drive traffic and improve store performance. Apple continues to lead the way in transforming their locations from a “place to transact” to a “place to interact.” Dropping the “store” from the name, offering more structured education, and recognizing the contribution of their associates to the customer experience all represent important milestones on this journey.

Virtually EVERY retail category has something to share — whether it be fashion advice, cooking advice, advice on eating healthier, DIY project tips, or technology advice. It is absolutely shocking that more retailers don’t recognize this as an opportunity to drive traffic (and ultimately conversions).

Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
5 years 10 months ago

This is a great path to continued success for Apple stores. A textbook example of leveraging a great customer experience to build trust and loyalty with your customer in a personalized way. This may not result in any immediate sales lift but what it will do is create even more feverishly loyal customers to the Apple brand. Customers having learned how to best use their Apple products will be ready to return when it’s time to upgrade and they most likely won’t even consider other brands because they’ll not have done something as valuable as this to build trust. People buy from brands they trust — that’s how loyalty is created.

We shouldn’t overlook the significance of the last point shown about “Today at Apple” — the 3 new positions created for store associates. Apple has the highest employee retention and lowest turnover of any retailer. There’s a reason for that — it comes from investing in their people and giving them a growth path. This adds yet another reason for employees to stay.

Min-Jee Hwang

In the long run, holding these classes strengthens their brand loyalty and draws consumers deeper into their community. It may not necessarily increase sales in the short term or draw in new customers, but ensures existing customers stay loyal once they see the need to upgrade their devices. Educating them in the various uses of Apple products is great for customer interaction and community development. Whether Ahrendts’ vision of a town square within the stores comes to fruition remains to be seen.

Jeff Miller
Apple is once again ahead of the curve or maybe more accurately coming back to something that they have done already and improving it. As stores become showrooms and malls become more about experiences as opposed to shopping, this is another great and “on brand” way to bring more people into the stores. They may purchase in store or online but education on products and more importantly how their products can help people achieve a goal or learn a new skill is powerful branding. I hope they continue to expand the curriculum and possibly expand the teaching online. I can see a place where an entire marketing campaign is aimed at this program as a way to drive store traffic. They are not the first to do this as other retailers like Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods and Sephora also hold a lot of similar in store classes. As for the second question about other areas of retail where this could serve as a customer draw, there are some obvious ones like home improvement, cooking and beauty.… Read more »
Sunny Kumar

Apple has been toying with this idea for some time now, with the notion of the Genius Bars when it first opened its stores. It’s a clever and needed idea for the simple fact that with the raft of new technologies here and on the way, Joe Public needs a way to keep up abreast of what he can do with them. And as the majority here have said, it only leads to stronger customer service and brand equity.

"Offering classes will bring customers into Apple stores as well as give them the opportunity to try (and desire) new Apple products."
"As humans, we define ourselves more by what we experience, than by what we purchase. The root of shopping is community."
"Whether Ahrendts’ vision of a town square within the stores comes to fruition remains to be seen."

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