The Watch and the Store 

Early last month, I visited a local jewelry store to buy a necklace for my wife. Her birthday is just a few days before Valentine’s Day, and this year, wanted to do something nicer for the occasion than the normal.

I walked in wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and sneakers[1] but was helped immediately by the staff. The woman who helped me was knowledgeable and helpful, and even though I spent shy of four figures, the level of service was phenomenal. We had a conversation about Merri’s likes and dislikes, and walked through some options together.

With the Apple Watch just around the corner, there’s been a lot of talk about how Apple may sell the devices to a new class of customer. Regardless of the price, it’s clear that the gold-enclosed Edition collection is going to be unlike anything the company has sold before.

While many of the products at the Apple Store of today are expensive, the Apple Watch Edition is going to be in a bracket all its own.

I don’t think the current version of the Apple Store is going to adjust well to the high-end Watch. Consider this paragraph from Ian Parker’s profile of Jony Ive in The New Yorker:

The table previously covered with a flat cloth was now uncovered: it was a glass-topped Apple Watch display cabinet, accessible to staff from below, via a descending, motorized flap, like the ramp at the rear of a cargo plane. Ive has begun to work with Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice-president of retail, on a redesign—as yet unannounced—of the Apple Stores. These new spaces will surely become a more natural setting for vitrines filled with gold (and perhaps less welcoming, at least in some corners, to tourists and truants). Apple had not, overnight, become an élite-oriented company—and it would sell seventy-five million iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, many of them in China—but I wondered how rational, and pure of purpose, one can make the design of a V.I.P. area. Ive later told me that he had overheard someone saying, “I’m not going to buy a watch if I can’t stand on carpet.”

While its clear that Apple is doing something to address this, the Apple Store of today isn’t at all the type of store I purchased my wife’s gift in last month.

The Apple Stores are informal at best, and confusing at worst. We’ve all walked into a busy store just to feel frustrated at trying to grab someone’s attention. Even in stores that have a greeter to help pair customers with sales associates, it’s a far cry from the one-on-one, high-touch experience someone looking to buy jewelry is used to having.

If you think Apple isn’t considering every detail of the Apple Watch experience, look no further than this piece for The Financial Times by Nick Foulkes:

Apple is far from the first company to tackle the smart watch, but it is tackling it like only Apple can, with metallurgists, engineers, chemists, mathematicians, tanneries, testing facilities and all the other resources at the disposal of the world’s most valuable company – resources that are then passed through the filter of a design culture shaped by Ive.

[…]

Nothing escapes this forensic level of thinking. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing goes uncalculated and untested. Before I leave, Ive holds up the watch’s white outer box. Almost imperceptibly, the bottom begins to move, obeying the law of gravity that pulls it away from its other half. It is graceful, calming… and far from accidental. “We work out what we feel is the optimum time for it to drop and then we back off that and work on the tolerances, and even work on the friction of the materials we use. I mean, that’s fanaticism,” he says, with a little smile. If only more fanatics were like Jony Ive.

The Apple Store is open, loud and mostly lacks the professionalism — the gravity, even — of a high-end jewelry store.

My best guess is that Apple will be turning part of their square footage into some sort of Watch-only, pop-up store-within-a-store, but many of the company’s retail locations — including the one here in Memphis — don’t have a lot of great space for that. Not every store is multi-level, and while the last mini-store is now gone, not every store is all that big.

The staffing question is more interesting, and, perhaps, more complex. If Apple does carve out some private space in all of their stores for high-end clientele, I think the company may have a problem here as well. Many stores I have visited staffed by mostly young people, and while they may be wearing polo shirts these days, there’s no getting around the fact that Apple Stores may just have the wrong kind of sales clerks to sell a $10,000 watch. That’s delicate and awkward, but I think it’s true.

I’m starting to think the Apple Watch Edition will not be available at all of Apple’s stores immediately.[2] I can see it being in select Apple Stores in cities like New York, L.A., London and Paris.

I think there’s a chance that the gold Apple Watches may end up in other high-end retailers as well that are already set up to sell such products. It would be a break from the normal, but so far, the Apple Watch Edition is far from Apple’s norm.

No matter what happens in Retail, Monday should be interesting. I’m excited.


  1. I fully embrace that I am part of the lumbersexual revolution.  ↩

  2. On this week’s Connected, Myke hypothesized that the company may not even reveal the Apple Watch Edition’s price on Monday. That would be really interesting, but he may be right. The price is going dominate headlines, and that’s not what Apple needs out of this press cycle.  ↩