The ever-changing state of consumer demands has led to a massive change in the role of physical stores, forcing retailers to experiment with different ideas to stimulate footfall. Apple’s new approach to retail will see stores, now dubbed ‘Town Squares’, serve as places for communal gatherings as well as retail spaces. Despite critics stating that Apple’s attempts to brand Town Squares as public spaces are misleading as the space (plus interactions within) are under the complete control and approval of Apple, by allowing this capacity to be used for community creativity, the retailer hopes to deepen its engagement with customers encouraging them to spend more and remain loyal.
Apple’s new concept is to create outdoor plazas, including greenery and seating to encourage social gatherings. The move by Apple is part of a larger trend within retail to make physical locations less about merchandise and more about experiences in an effort to drive consumers back into stores as the trend for online shopping continues.
Town Squares have the potential to transform Apple as a brand, moving away from a ‘conventional’ merchandiser towards becoming conduits for gathering, connecting and general entertainment. These areas are constructed to provide alternatives to traditional ‘hang-out’ locations such as at food services or coffee chains towards its own locations.
Town Squares may work for Apple as it will enable the retailer to potentially gather and attain a broad range of shoppers within its ecosystem. Town Squares meet the needs of a vast range of people and backgrounds, from entrepreneurs that can rent out work spaces to the general public attending classes instore. Furthermore, it allows the brand to improve its public image, moving away from a corporate company and towards a consumer-friendly company.
Moreover, other retailers are tapping into the ‘gathering’ trend. For example, luxury department store Nordstrom announced that it will test a concept store in Los Angeles that would not sell merchandise but would instead offer customers services from stylists and tailors.
In addition, trendy clothing brand retailer American Eagle Outfitters added a non-alcoholic beverage bar DRINK at its Times Square flagship store, to further attract consumers into store. Also, outdoor clothing brand Patagonia offers free yoga classes, environmental discussions and a sewing workshop within select locations, which further play into this trend.
Apple’s Town Squares, however, slightly differ to Nordstrom’s concept store and the examples above in the sense that they are designed to become popular areas for social gatherings within cities as well as offering its services.
If substantial boosts in footfall are experienced by Apple following the implementation of Town Squares, it will certainly encourage other retailers to consider how they engage with consumers. For example, there is potential for retailers to experiment with their space, offering outdoor seating areas or meeting rooms where individuals can meet and socialise. Stationery retailers could construct workstations with boardrooms and outdoor seating around select stores to attract a broad range of shoppers. The construction of gymnasiums and free classes by sports clothing & footwear retailers within select urban areas could become the norm to drive footfall to stores, for example.
Overall, while there is certainly no guarantee that Town Squares will translate to a substantial boost in Apple’s offer, it has the ability to allow the brand to engage existing and incremental consumers, so that they continue to utilise Apple’s products and services and be part of its ecosystem. The potential benefits of having these social gathering experiences force other retailers to consider the ways in which they engage with their consumers.
Mostafa Abd El Haleem