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Apple’s retail chief set out to transform its stores. Now she’s leaving.

Justin Ho Feb 6, 2019
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Head of retail at Apple Angela Ahrendts (L) poses with a store team member for a selfie at the opening of an Apple store in Brussels, Belgium in 2015. JASPER JACOBS/AFP/Getty Images

Apple’s retail chief set out to transform its stores. Now she’s leaving.

Justin Ho Feb 6, 2019
Head of retail at Apple Angela Ahrendts (L) poses with a store team member for a selfie at the opening of an Apple store in Brussels, Belgium in 2015. JASPER JACOBS/AFP/Getty Images
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This week, Apple announced that Angela Ahrendts, its head of retail, will leave the company in April. Ahrendts joined Apple in 2014 after leading a big turnaround at the luxury fashion giant Burberry.

At Apple, she tried to do the same, setting out to turn Apple’s stores into what she called “town squares” — places where people could congregate and take classes, see concerts or sip coffee.

That’s a big shift from the early days of the Apple store, when people went to check out iPods and iMacs that they’d never seen before.

But Apple analyst Neil Cybart at Above Avalon said that in recent years, the stores’ average customer has changed.

“They’re already familiar with Apple, they’re already have products, but they go to a store to get help with those products,” he said.

The town square model was meant to add more to that experience. Retail analyst Sucharita Kodali at Forrester said Apple tried this at a few flagship stores, but the model didn’t take off nationwide.

“When ultimately you go into most Apple stores now, the experience isn’t really that different than what they were over the years,” she said, adding that it doesn’t help that Apple hasn’t had a blockbuster new product to sell in its stores for a while.

Meanwhile, Colin Gillis, director of research at Chatham Road Partners, said customers have been encountering longer wait times to service their computers or replace iPhone batteries.

He said Apple’s likely to focus on improving its service, which means hiring more staff and more workers who can answer technical questions.

“Apple’s trying to bring in people who have proficiency, so if you’re coming in for photography, or video, or coding, or app lessons, or music, they have people with those specific skills as well,” he said.

Analyst Cybart said Apple needs to make sure those employees are happy, too, and that it’s fitting that Apple’s new head of retail, Deirdre O’Brien, is also in charge of human resources for the company.

“Your interaction with an Apple store employee is going to probably make or break your experience,” he said.

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