How Apple Watch changes Apple Retail

The Apple Watch is a unique product for Apple Retail. The retail operation is designed today to showcase a few demo models of a product, sitting on a table, chained to a desk. Guests can get a very good feel of how a laptop or a phone works by touching it while tethered. You can play with the iPhone’s software or check Facebook on a MacBook Air and reasonably intuit how this thing will fit into your life. Apple has perfected that purchasing experience over the last decade because their products have fundamentally all been disconnected from the user.

While the Apple Watch shares some similarities to Apple’s other mobile products, the experience of using one is totally different. A smartwatch becomes an augmentation, an extension of your body. It has to fit your wrist, and be comfortable, and provide subtle utility. It must look and feel good to the person wearing it. A watch is often more about fashion than utility.

Proving those elements will be what convinces someone who walks into an Apple Store to walk out with an Apple Watch. So to really try an Apple Watch before you buy one, you’re going to have to wear it.


And that means a shift in Apple Retail’s buying experience. While they could just trot out a handful of demo models on a table, that seems antithetical to the purpose of their retail store. They’re going to want you to try these on, to see yourself in mirrors to compare how they fit and look.

They’re going to emphasize the feel of the leather loop strap versus the adjustability of the Milanese loop, the traditional look of the classic buckle over the sport band, and the elegance of the modern buckle or the link bracelet. And considering the Apple Watch Edition’s price will be set to cater to people who pay fortunes for luxury, a gold watch chained to a table will not be good enough to move these.


How will Apple adopt to this? I suspect the Watch section will consist of two parts.

In the front will be a standard table display, similar to their other lineups. A table full of Apple Watches; the variety of models and straps with both sizes. Much like the lineup of phones and iPads, you’ll get to compare the look at the sizes, colors, and materials that make up each Apple Watch, as well as give the software a run through. The usual Apple Store buying experience.


But behind this will be something else, taken from the pages of high-end apparel and jewelry stores. Here will be on-hands demos where you’ll actually wear a Watch, guided by someone who intimately knows the materials behind each Watch and strap. This will likely work differently from the rest of the Store. By this point, you probably have decided you want one, and just need to settle on which configuration.

You’ll see how the two sizes fit, try on a few bands, look at the hand mirror, pick one you like, settle on a Watch color to go with it, look at a body mirror while wearing it. Ultimately you’ll decide which one you want. The guide could set up your new Watch with your iPhone, before handing you off to a salesperson to finalize the sale. And the process repeats for the next person.

The guided tour area will probably also look and even feel differently. Jony Ive is working with the new senior VP of retail, Angela Ahrendts (former CEO of Burberry, pictured above) to design the new space, and reportedly overheard someone who commented off-hand that “I’m not going to buy a watch if I can’t stand on carpet”. Luscious fabrics, comfortable seating, with hints of gold are commonplace in luxury fashion.

This is what Apple has to compete against outside of tech, and it’s how you sell someone on a five figure watch made out of gold.


Over time, this more direct setting could be expanded to include other products, and more of the store’s space. A guided tour on a couch with an iPad Air, watching a movie or trying out FaceTime, would make for a much more visceral and intimate demo than tapping down at a crowded table. Apple is as much about selling the feeling of their products as they are the utility. It wouldn’t be necessary to sell every iPad or MacBook, but it could make it that much more convincing.

But these are changes for the future. Apple has never made drastic overnight changes to their entire way of doing business, and there’s no reason to think they’ll do that now. Gradual refinement and analysis is the pathway for Apple Retail’s evolution. But for now, a more hands-on approach to selling on-hands accessories is imperative to creating the kind of sales experience that accompanies high-end fashion.