Apple is redefining retail experiences as we know them


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Guess what is Apple’s fastest-growing product by total sales? It’s not any of the iDevices, as many of us would believe – it’s eCommerce – or should we call this the iCommerce. According to Business Insider, Apple’s sales of digital content totals $4.4 billion in Q1 of this year, and are growing at a pace of almost 20% per year. This makes it a more than $17 billion business on a yearly basis. Compare that to the mere $2 billion that Zappos is making with its much raved customer experience goldmine.

Most importantly, Apple is pushing through more mobile shopping than Google, although more people own Android phones.

Apple Store Fifth Avenue (CC) Fletcher6Whereas most people think that Touch ID is about security, CEO Tim Cook is, in fact, building a business infrastructure that closes the loop for retailers. In this ecosystem, iPhone is used as the mobile payments device, to pay for the shopping spree triggered with iBeacons.

iBeacons are small, almost unnoticeable and low-energy Bluetooth devices that can be used in-store to send product information, discounts, recommendations, rewards or flash sales to phones. These marketing messages are based on people’s location and proximity to stores and products. The iCommerce ecosystem lets Apple and its retailer partners know exactly where customers are buying, step-by-step along their shopping journey.

Closing the loop

This makes it possible, in essence, to attribute marketing to sales and to shoppers. No need to check-in via the foursquares and facebooks of the world, just accept the offer and pay with your phone. The contactless payments system speeds up the checkout process. And hey presto, now we know who is buying, on the spot! That is way more valuable than iWatch or new Apple TV combined.

Apple is, yet again, leading the pack on designing end-to-end retail customer experiences, and thus redefining a category. For the customer experience profession, it will also mark a major milestone if and when Apple manages to persuade the major retailers to follow its lead, and gets its mobile payments business together. It’s a huge business opportunity. Half of American adults are already using their mobile devices in-store, and other countries follow closely by.

So far, companies have been able to keep track of their customers’ buying behaviour only in the digital realm, and have successfully personalised their experiences, customer-by-customer. As the boundaries between online and offline are blurring, people are expecting to get the same treatment on their visits in the physical world. They want to be dealt with as the individuals they are, and think companies should know their preferences regardless of the service channel. In a multi-channel shopping environment, a single customer view is a must to ensure customer loyalty and engagement.

Surely, there are still hiccups. Surely, the technologies are still in their infancy. But Apple has a perfect playground with their own network of Apple Stores to test iCommerce in live action with real shoppers.

If Apple or its partners can come up with the perfect mix of convenience, personalisation and service against privacy concerns, and manage to renew the way brands interact with their customers – leading to wide customer acceptance – Apple could, indeed, revolutionise the in-store experience.

What kind of customer experiences do you want to provide?

The Finnish startup scene has already proved that there is true business potential to catching customers on the go. We have several tried and tested solutions out in the open paving the way: just have a look at what the likes of ExperQ, Walkbase, Innorange, RapidBlue etc. have been doing for the past couple of years to analyse customers’ interests, needs and wants, and to measure customer experiences instantly. When you add personal assistant feel-like notifications and instant feedback to mobile payments to close the loop, you can actually know everything there is to know about each customer who visits you and every single experience you are providing.

This vision of future shopping is closer than we think. The main thing to understand here is not the technology being used, though. The most important issue to think about is how this new ecosystem – be it Apple’s or somebody else’s – can be used in the long run to enhance the experiences of your customers in-store, and beyond retail.

What can you do to entice your shoppers, travellers, gamers, guests and visitors to adopt this new way of interacting with your store, venue or other encounter? That, my friends, is the true question you need to figure out an answer to. Which takes us back to the original question that every company needs to have a clear statement on: what is the customer experience you are aiming to achieve?


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