Today in Apple history: Apple reinvents the computer store

May15May 15, 2001: Steve
Jobs flips the script on the dreadful experience of computer
shopping, unveiling an ambitious plan to open 25 innovative
Apple stores across the United States.

The first two
Apple stores, located at Tysons Corner in McLean, Virginia, and
the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, California, are set to open
later that week. But this is about much more than just a couple
of retail outlets. It’s a radical reinvention of tech retail
that will change the way computers get sold.

Apple stores think different about retail

Long viewed
as an upstart indie in the computer industry, Apple always
tried to “think different” about retail. During the 1980s and
’90s, as Windows PCs became the norm, Cupertino continually
tried to find ways to improve the customer-facing sales

Not too much happened until Steve Jobs
returned to Apple in 1996. Within his first year back, he laid
out two initiatives: setting up Apple’s online store and
establishing a string of “store within a store” outposts inside

CompUSA shops around the United States

CompUSA experiment served as a prototype for the Apple retail
stores that would follow: Inside a dedicated section of each
CompUSA store, Apple-trained employees helped customers connect
with Cupertino’s products.

This “store
within a store” concept gave Apple more control over the way
its products got displayed and demoed to consumers.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a match made in heaven. The
mini-Apple stores drew disappointing foot traffic — partially
due to the fact that the mini-stores were often positioned near
the back of the CompUSA outlets.

Shopping that ‘just works’

Jobs’ personal preference when it came to retail was for
high-end outlets that focused on “big ticket” items rather than
bulk sales.

This is exactly what the standalone Apple stores turned out to
be when they debuted in 2001. With a newfound focus on sleek
design — especially visible in the likes of the
iMac G3
— Apple products looked especially strange in the sea
of putty-colored plastic cases seen in typical computer

ApplestoreHow the first Apple
stores appeared in 2001.
Photo: Apple via MacStories

Since many retail stores sold their own generic, in-house PCs —
which gave them higher profit margins than buying and selling
other people’s computers — there was a vested interest in
steering potential customers away from buying Macs.

The Apple stores gave Cupertino more control and an opportunity
to apply the design-focused, “it just works” ethos to the
retail experience. Compared to the way other computer stores
packed products in, Apple stores seemed more in line with
high-end fashion boutiques, which showed off just a few
products to tantalize customers.

Designing the perfect
Apple store experience

Jobs worked closely with Ron Jonhson, former vice president of
merchandising at Target, to design the perfect user experience
for Apple stores. They came up with concepts like the Genius
Bar, a product demo theater and internet-connected computers so
customers could just hang out and check email or their favorite

“The Apple stores offer
an amazing new way to buy a computer,”
Jobs said
in a press release. “Rather than just hear about
megahertz and megabytes, customers can now learn and experience
the things they can actually do with a computer, like make
movies, burn custom music CDs, and publish their digital photos
on a personal website.”

It was a total reimagining of what a computer store should be.
Since then, everyone from Samsung to Microsoft copied the
formula — although nobody pulled it off like Apple.

Customers had to wait a few more years before Apple started
opening its most iconic retail outlets, like its Fifth Avenue store in
New York
. However, May 2001 is when the Apple store
experiment kicked off in style. It hasn’t stopped since…

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