How Steve Jobs changed the face of retail with the Apple Store

Apple Vision Pro at Apple Fifth Avenue in 2024

May 19, 2001 were opened the first Apple Stores, which not only changed the way consumers would buy Apple hardware and experience their purchases, but also changed traditional retail forever.

“This is our store,” Steve Jobs said when introducing the Apple Store for the first time. He did so in a video presentation on May 15, 2001, ahead of the opening of the first Apple Stores the following Saturday.

The Apple Store, Apple's first foray into its own retail stores, opened its first two stores on May 19, 2001: in Glendale, California and then in Tysons Corner, Virginia. One of the AppleInsider employees was present at the opening of the latest store.

Over more than two decades, the Apple Store has grown to over 500 stores in over 20 countries, including India in April 2023. Its growth has surged during very difficult times for the retail sector as a whole, including the consumer electronics sector. space.

And even because of the coronavirus, Apple Stores did not go bankrupt, as happened with many others — including Microsoft.

Helping to fuel Apple's growth and playing a key role in the launch of the iPod, iPhone, iPad and other devices, the Apple Store also forever changed the face of computer and electronics retailing. And this image has been widely copied: from Microsoft, which launched a chain of similar stores, to Sony, which tried to do the same, to real knock-off Apple Stores in China.

Steve Jobs unveils the Apple Store at Tysons Corner in Virginia

Before the Apple Store

Throughout the 1990s, Apple computers were sold in chain stores and from Apple Authorized Retailers. Customer support from large stores was questionable and usually related to how often Apple representatives and then contractors came in to keep the staff in line.

Starting in 1997, shortly after Jobs returned to the company, Apple tried to move to a store-within-a-store concept, which it agreed to with CompUSA.

At the same time, Apple pulled its products from most major non-CompUSA retailers.

And also at that time, Dell was Apple's main competitor and was doing well in online sales. In preparation for the release of the original iMac, Apple has also updated its online store.

However, instead of selling products exclusively online, Jobs decided to open Apple-branded retail stores. In early 2000, he hired executive Ron Johnson, formerly of Target, to run them.

The First Stores

On May 15, 2001, Apple announced that it would open 25 retail stores in this year, including the first two that Saturday.

Subscribe to AppleInsider on YouTube

The first stores, as Jobs explained in his introductory video, would feature products like iMacs and iBooks in the front, and as well as the then-new PowerBook G4 Titanium and Power Mac. The iPod, however, wouldn't be released for another five months, and of course it would be six years before the iPhone arrived.

Children used iMac Flower Power at Tyson's Corner on opening day

The store also featured music, movies, photography and a children's section. , as well as digital cameras and video cameras from third-party manufacturers.

There was also a lot of boxed software. Even as Apple has disrupted traditional retail, it has radically changed the way it sells software, to the point where boxed apps now seem odd.

Another initial selling point that will never go away is — not completely, at least — is the original incarnation of the Genius Bar. At the time, the Genius Bar featured photographs of Albert Einstein and other famous geniuses that were included in Apple's “Think Different” ads of the time.

Jobs positioned store “geniuses” as people who could answer customer questions — and if they couldn't, there was even a landline in Cupertino that they could contact.

More than 500 fans lined up outside the Tysons store before dawn that first day. Tysons and Glendale welcomed more than 7,500 visitors over the weekend and sold a total of $599,000 in product in the first two days.

The Apple Store was an immediate success, but Apple wasn't the first company to try it. Apple was the first company to get it right. Dell moved online after its retail business failed, and Gateway did the same.

Sustained success

In contrast, the Apple Store's success started off high and never subsided.

Its first city flagship on Chicago's Magnificent Mile opened in 2003, and later that year the first international Apple Store opened in Ginza, Tokyo, Japan. Five years after opening its first two stores, in 2006, Apple opened its iconic “cube” on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Although the number of Apple Stores around the world has exceeded 500, and their first store in Korea opened in 2018, the originals are not forgotten. Voted the number one Apple store in Glendale, it remains a popular destination for fans. But store number two — Tyson — was still the first one to open and has undergone major renovations over the years.

Apple continues to update its stores and add new ones that lovingly preserve the architecture of old buildings or create strikingly modern stores from the ground up.

But you can still see the original stores in their original form — through an AR app that will fill you with nostalgia for something you never knew had changed so much.

Hard Times

While there is no doubt that Apple is gradually opening more and more Apple Stores around the world, it also closed them all in 2020. For months, all Apple stores around the world were closed due to the coronavirus and were only slowly opening — before sometimes having to close again.

China was the first to see Apple stores reopen, followed by parts of Europe and then the US. Each had reduced hours and the entire atmosphere changed as they implemented social distancing and health procedures.

Notably, Apple paid its retail employees during the shutdown.

It's easy to assume that Apple has limitless funds because it is the largest company in the world, and it is easy to assume that it extracts PR value from everything it can. But when this became known, the company quietly paid salaries to staff at more than 500 stores for two months.

Deirdre O'Brien (Source: Apple)

The company also sent packages to some employees in the early days of the pandemic, and kept each of them informed about what was happening and what Apple was doing.

At a time when other companies were laying off employees at best and mass layoffs at worst, Apple's approach to Apple Store staff was truly commendable.

In the same way, although in a different way, Apple balanced retail and online sales. From the beginning, the company sold boxed software in stores, but planned to bring applications to the Internet.

Back then, with Angela Ahrendts in retail and now with Deirdre O'Brien, the company has managed to keep both its brick-and-mortar and online stores busy. This is how Apple was able to continue to sell well even during quarantine around the world.

But this is how he was able to help millions of people who were suddenly forced to work from home. Even if they can't go to their local Apple Store, they can order online and get contactless delivery.

Steve Jobs couldn't have foreseen the coronavirus pandemic back in 2001, but the steps he and Ron Johnson took back then meant Apple stores today can continue to survive even under that pressure.

Unlawful criticism of unions

However, there are other pressures now that seemed unimaginable when all of this began . For example, if you know and have used Apple Stores for a long time, you know that they don't experience the same sales pressure as everywhere else.

Usually, you would ask the Apple Store employees for advice on how to do something, and instead of selling you an Apple device, they would direct you to the electronics store on the other side of the mall. If this was the right place for you to buy what you needed, they said so.

This, of course, ensured that you'd come back right away the next time you needed something, and it was the basis of the impression that Apple Stores were on your side. Apple Stores were full of employees who wanted to work there, unlike large resellers where untrained staff relied on sales bonuses to survive.

All this is still true, but increasingly there is a feeling that it is because of the staff — and despite Apple. For a store that challenged retail norms and redefined the entire shopping experience, somewhere along the way Apple Stores began to see the return of the old methods of high-pressure sales.

In 2022, one Apple Store described the relationship between Apple and Apple Store staff as so bad that saying anything or complaining about anything was as effective as “writing to Santa.”

Apple refuses to accept any such criticism and instead maintains that the relationship between it and staff is strong. In particular, Apple's head of retail, Deirdre O'Brien, says there should be no unions in Apple Stores.

“I worry about what it means to put another organization at the center of our relationship,” she said in May 2022. “An organization that does not have a deep understanding of Apple or our business, and most importantly, one that I do not believe shares our commitment to you.”

Apple might say it is improving wages and working conditions for its retail staff, but it does so only because the threat of unionization has increased. The company has also been repeatedly accused of illegal anti-union moves, such as allegedly firing activists.

Then in Australia, when negotiations with Apple failed, retail employees went on strike. It was reported to be the first workers' strike in Australian retail history.

This is not a record that the Apple Store should be breaking, and it spoils what is rightfully considered a remarkable retail success.

Follow AppleInsider on Google News.

Leave a Reply