Seattle’s University Village Apple Store is the destination for Apple fans in Puget Sound – it’s huge, it’s where local luminaries bought their iPhones, it’s the one that was recently burglarized, and the rise of Apple popularity has coincided with the growth of this upscale open-air shopping mall.
Additionally, the design of Apple stores has recently received a fair amount of press – Fortune wrote about the design process and the New York Times used one as a lesson for Sony.
So when the redesign gnomes hit Seattle for two weeks – a redesign I’ve heard mentioned but never discussed – as an armchair philosopher on retail site design, I was excited to see the results. I went by about a week after the reopening.
Overall, I found the meaningful changes to be, well, weird – either ideas that didn’t work in practice, or implementations that left artifacts that impacted the cleanliness of the experience.
Here’s a set of examples and a conclusion that wraps them up. I snapped these with my iPhone on the fly, so apologies in advance. I don’t have before photos, so you’ll have to imagine – I’m assuming most of you have been in an Apple store anyway.
Old Design: point of sale table in the front, set back somewhat from the runs of tables/counters on each side.
New Design: row of shelves with accessories in the front, set (seemingly) closer to the front door than the POS was.
It’s understandable why you might want to move POS away from the front of the store – financially, you want people to walk through the store to see more things before the buy, and spiritually, you don’t want to be selling first. But the Apple POS wasn’t like walking to a Gap register – you could see employees, and because the store was often so busy, you’d have a crowd of both customers and employees – which meant new customers might have to wade through but always found someone quickly to help them.
The change, though, is far worse. Now you run smack into bookshelf-like accessory sales aisles – as if the entrance experience of the Apple store should be about video cables and earbuds. The shelving itself has never been particularly attractive, but at least it wasn’t being shown off as you entered. The shelves close off the room in a way that the entrance foyer with POS never did. The front half of the store’s central corridor has been taken over by skins and third-party screen covers.
Additionally, to accommodate the crowds, the POS had to be set back somewhat, which was good for field of vision – when you entered the store you were as likely to see the MacBook/iPod displays as you were the POS. I believe these shelves are further forward, though I could be wrong: in any case, they definitely interfere with immediate store scan.
More on the aisles
They’re wide – very wide, like four people side-by-side wide. Good if they were crowded, but of course they’re not – they’re basically empty. This wouldn’t matter so much if they hadn’t made some other areas smaller.
Weirdly, the shelves are holding items that don’t fit. I’m guessing they ran out of anything else to put there that met the kinds of things on those aisles, but it’s jarring.
Kid’s Play Area
Old Store: six seats for kids to play various games around a large round table.
New Store: two seats, much smaller square table
Obviously this wasn’t a huge moneymaker for the store, but given all the empty space between the shelves, you’d think they could have kept the seats – especially given that every single time I went in the store, all six seats were filled, with kids waiting.(Anecdotally, we found the only piece of software we’ve bought our daughter at that table – an otherwise-hard-to-find Dr. Seuss ABC “game“.) The space around this circle left a lot of space for employee and customer flow, which is now gone.
Non-point-of-sale Point of Sale
OK, here’s the meat. One theoretical “win” of the redesign is the removal of the major POS table – that with roving employees with fancy scanners and an occasional computer, they don’t need a POS desk.
At some point, though, they must have figured out that this didn’t work – sometimes they were really going to need a table with a desktop. And if you’re going to have a table, then maybe you’re going to have a queue. And then you need people to staff it. But it’s small so it doesn’t need much room, so let’s stick it in the back.
At this point you’ve left elegance for compromise, and you end up with weird results.
This photo shows two weird problems:
One, you’ve created a very small space where lots of employees who don’t have anything else to do congregate and talk at the back of the store, in between the accessories/kid’s table and the Genius Bar. I never saw fewer than four people just talking.
Two, you have these unused black poles-and-straps used for line boundaries, on both sides of the small table. They seem like lines to nowhere, though it’s impossible to tell because they aren’t in use. Why aren’t they removing them if they have no purpose?
Exposing the employee-used POS computer is cool, although the big “Access Denied” page this employee fought with for a few minutes wasn’t probably what the designers expected.
They’ve replaced the large auditorium space with the relocated Genius Bar and a set of workstations, ostensibly for 1-1 lessons. I didn’t see many lessons going on, though – they just seemed like more computers for people to play with, but without marketing signage and in a very tight space. Here’s a preteen checking her GMail:
I’m used to seeing all of the employees in shirts either selling Apple the brand or individual Apple products. Today, though, there were a bunch of employees in Bose shirts – hanging around the iPod shuffles, not even the speakers. I’m not sure if they were Apple or Bose employees, but it was like going to Costco and getting a sample from the Hill Country Farms ham lady. (OK, not quite.)
This table is selling iPod Classics and iPod Videos, but all of the merchandising material is for the Touch. Maybe just misplaced signage.
Most of the rest of the store is the same: the Genius Bar is in the back but seems similar, the tables and counters on the sides for Macs and iPods/iPhones are basically the same, the software/printer/ speakers/networking equipment sections are still relegated to the back (except for the items that “graduated” to the shelves in the center).
The obvious goal of this redesign is to remove the POS table. However, the POS table isn’t really gone, and the results of doing so are a mess. Customers and employees aren’t flowing through the store as cleanly as before, and they didn’t replace POS with anything better. I’m surprised by the results of the design and hope to see more improvements.