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The Apple Store: Puerto en la Tormenta


I was 3,842 miles from home, but I could still rely on Apple.

I could very easily sit here and torture you with details from an aggravating episode in the Comeau family's recent European vacation.

So I will.

Don't say you weren't warned.

My bank, which will remain nameless, really dropped the ball on me. I called before my trip with my travel itinerary to ensure I wouldn't run into any security issues when using my debit card abroad. And for most of my trip through Spain and Italy, it worked just fine for shopping, dining, and cash withdrawals.

And then one day, my posse and I strolled into a Barcelona McDonald's (NYSE:MCD). I ordered a meal and my card was rejected.


The same thing then happened in a souvenir shop, and I get a little worried.

I then tried to withdraw a few bucks from an ATM with no luck, and my blood starts boiling.

Part of me assumed that the bank's system had made a glitch (hey, we all make mistakes -- even I wrote this absurd article), but the fact that I did take the proper pre-trip steps also had me fearing that there was an actual problem with my account.

The more I thought about this, the more I started to lose my mind.

I needed to get the bank on the phone ASAP, but I had stupidly failed to write down the instructions from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) for dialing outside the country without incurring crazy roaming charges. So that's my wrongdoing in this whole mess.

So I needed Wi-Fi immediately to figure out how to make the call without spending a fortune, as my bank has an incredibly Byzantine phone system that ensured an extended and thus expensive phone call.

And then I remembered... we were just a couple of blocks from the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) store at Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona.

So let me tell you why I love the Apple store.

It's because I know that if there's one nearby, I'll have fast and reliable Wi-Fi, access to a very helpful staff that isn't trying to sell me garbage I don't need, and perhaps most importantly on a purely biological level, they have nice clean bathrooms!

And in this case, the store's staff didn't throw my maniacal, sweaty butt out when I was on my iPhone yelling at my bank. Plus, in the event I was having a problem with my iPhone, I could have gotten it fixed on the spot.

These are simple things, but there's an important underlying theme here: Apple is working for our money.

Now, according to the consulting firm RetailSails, on a sales-per-square-foot basis, Apple stores are the most productive in the US, more than doubling the pace of the second-place retailer, Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF).

All the evidence, including my silly anecdote, points to a simple fact: Come hell or high water, Apple wants you in its stores, and the company is going to do its best to make you happy.

I remember browsing in electronics stores when I was a teenager. Computers were never connected to the Internet; you'd get funny (and sometimes nasty) looks when playing with stuff; and if you needed something fixed, you'd have to box it up and send it to Bora Bora.

And God forbid you actually bought something, because then you'd have to live through the retail industry's equivalent of waterboarding -- the high-pressure extended warranty sales pitch.

Apple is the anti-retailer retailer. Here's a properly illustrative quote from former Apple retail head Ron Johnson, who is now running JC Penney (NYSE:JCP):

But the most important thing we set in our design criteria is we wanted to create very distinct experiences for customers, in what they perceive as a public place. More like a great library, which has natural light, and it feels like a gift to the community. In a perfect world, that's what we want our stores to be. And we don't want the store to be about the product, but about a series of experiences that make it more than a store.

People like to shop at Apple stores because they're welcomed -- and this is an environment an awful lot of companies, ranging from Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), are emulating. The hard sell is just plain irritating. In order to open their wallets, people want a metaphorical hug, not a gun to the head.

Incidentally, Apple's influence, combined with the other emerging dominant retail force -- (NASDAQ:AMZN) -- may create a "barbell" structure of sorts for retail.

While Amazon actually does have fantastic customer service when you choose to get in touch with them, the company's focus seems to be on simply getting out of the way and shipping mass quantities of goods at rock-bottom prices. It's the polar opposite of Apple's touch-feely approach to winning over shoppers and is inherently low-margin -- but it's incredibly scalable. I wouldn't be surprised to see Amazon eventually hit $1 trillion in revenues.

So the future fights could be to out-feel Apple and out-scale Amazon -- tall orders if you ask me.

See also:

If iTunes Radio Won't Be Profitable, What's the Point?

Nokia Will Join the Phablet Game, Challenging Samsung's Dominance

In Search of a Smartphone With a Difference

Twitter: @Minyanville

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