5 Lessons Your Small Business Can Learn From Apple’s Retail Strategy

Throughout most of the 1990s, Apple was a company in decline — a stark reality hastened by the fact that Mac fans often had no savvy sales or tech support to turn to within the large retail chains that carried Mac computers during that era. It was almost an exclusively Windows world back then.

But in 2001, Apple boldly ventured into the competitive world of brick-and-mortar retail. A decade later Apple now boasts of more than 300 stores worldwide, the outcome of a robust retail strategy that has helped turn the company around and propel its market capitalization beyond $300 billion.

How’d the company do it? Here are five lessons from it exploits in the world of retail.

1) Simplicity Sells

One billion customers have passed through Apple Stores in eleven countries on four continents. And what noticeable attribute do patrons at each location most commonly praise? The universal simplicity of the stores, their appearance, and the shopping experiences they engender.

“Apple made the smart move of making the retail experience in its stores simple,” says Don Reisinger of eWeek. “When consumers go into one of its stores they find a simple setup that invites them to try out products. Once they find what they’re looking for, they can just tell one of the salespeople and walk out of there in a matter of minutes with a new Apple product in hand.”

2) The Illusion of Luxury

Just because something is simple doesn’t mean it needs to lack an air of sophistication. “There’s an undeniable atmosphere of luxury inside Apple Stores,” says business analyst Mike Randazzo. “But it really is a faux atmosphere. There’s nothing gratuitously luxurious about Apple products. But the company has achieved the ability to make its customers feel as though they’ve treated themselves to a supremely elite product that epitomizes luxury in mobile devices. It’s perhaps the greatest public relations win in the history of retail marketing. Apple has customers who feel special for using Apple products.”

3) No Substitute for Quality

Not withstanding Apple’s often-emulated marketing brilliance, it would all be for naught if the company was releasing sub-par products. Sales at Apple retail stores, for example, exploded during the first quarter of 2011, up 90 percent to $3.2 billion. But not even Apple’s near-flawless execution of exceptional marketing strategies would drive such sales success if the underlying products were not of outstanding quality.

4) Consistent Branding

“I see a lot of small business owners employ what I call ‘Madonna marketing,’ Randazzo says. “They try to change their look, their style, and their presence every so often to shake things up. Small businesses aren’t pop stars that require constant re-invention. Brand consistency is critical to building brand loyalty. The last ten years of Apple’s retail strategy provide this argument’s ultimate case study.”

5) Create Fans, Not Customers

It’s been said that Apple doesn’t have customers. It has raving fans who will happily camp out in the rain for three days in order to be the first to purchase a new or refreshed product from the iDevice line.

Apple is, indeed, a company that has cultivated a legion of so-called “fanboys” — an outstanding feat that business experts say isn’t out of reach for any company of any size… so long as it focuses on the same marketing and business practices that have worked so masterfully for Apple.

About Michael Essany

Michael Essany is a former E! Entertainment Television host and nationally published author who was recognized by A&E Biography in 2005 as "One of America's Most Remarkable People." Michael currently serves as Vice President of Indiana Grain Company, LLC.
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