Apple Store Turns 15, Gets Retail Revamp

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This week marked the 15th anniversary of the first Apple Store opening. We take a look at the history of Apple's retail strategy and where it's headed.

Apple opened its first two stores on May 19, 2001. Fifteen years later, the company generates the highest sales per square foot of all US retailers and welcomes more than 1 million global customers each day.

At the time Apple's first retail outlets in Tysons Corner, Virginia and Glendale, California received their first visitors, many were skeptical about how they would perform. The sluggish economy led many to believe sales would be poor.

In 2001, Apple's computer sales were mediocre and the iPhone was nowhere close to reality. While the iPod had proven popular, it certainly didn't seem enough to justify a broader retail strategy.

[Read: The SAP/Apple partnership is all about HANA.]

Needless to say, Apple exceeded expectations and currently has 478 stores around the globe with more than 60,000 employees working at them. In recent years, the company has expanded its retail operations to include outlets in Brussels, London, Dubai, and China.

Now Apple is revamping its retail strategy with new store designs, features, and services. The first new Apple store will open in San Francisco's Union Square on Saturday, May 21, and the new look will slowly roll out to locations around the globe.

"We are not just evolving our store design, but its purpose and greater role in the community as we educate and entertain visitors and serve our network of local entrepreneurs," said Angela Ahrendts, Apple's SVP of Retail and Online Stores, in a statement.

The new Apple Store has been redesigned to be more accessible for customers, Apple's Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive explained in a statement. This starts with the storefront, which has the massive sliding glass doors and open spaces customers already associate with Apple's retail locations.

Inside, visitors will see "The Avenue," where walls have interactive windows to display Apple products and services, and "Only at Apple" products from third-party makers. Apple's creative experts are on hand for assistance at each display.

The Genius Bar has been redesigned and rebranded as the "Genius Grove." Customers get the same help they'd normally seek at the Genius Bar, but now they will do so under "the comfortable canopy of local trees" inside the store, Apple explains.

There is also an educational center called "The Forum" where customers will be able to attend "Today at Apple," a series of events where artists, musicians, photographers, and other creative types talk about their projects. Apple claims these events will include sessions for children, teachers, and developers.

Apple's most prominent retail stores will have an area called "The Plaza" where visitors will have access to seating and public WiFi. The Plaza will have a regular weekend series of musical performances and interviews.

Finally, "The Boardroom" will provide a meeting space for the store's Business Team to give training and guidance to developers, entrepreneurs, and small and medium business customers.

Perhaps the redesigned stores could give Apple the sales jolt it needs. During its second fiscal quarter of 2016, the company reported its first quarterly decline in 13 years and the first drop in iPhone sales since the smartphone debuted in 2007.

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