Big changes in Apple’s store offer lessons for smaller merchants

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

The Apple Store is making some big changes. According to this report on Fortune.com, Apple is changing its stores to be more than just a store. It’s all part of a revamp in design that’s been going on over the past two years and now customers are starting to see the results.

At its San Francisco flagship, customers are now greeted by a 50-foot-tall video wall.  There are several areas to congregate. The “Genius Bar” has been renamed to a “Genius Grove” and operates under a “canopy of ficus trees grown at a local nursery.” The company has even introduced a special place for its business customers called the Boardroom, where staffers that specialize in business apps can provide consultations.

Another interesting change, as previously noted in this Vanity Fair piece, is that Apple is hanging products, like phone cases, on display instead of in packages.  They’re allowing customers to try things out as samples and if they like it, they fetch a boxed item from a drawer and ring up the sale.

Of course, most small merchants, even if they could afford it, would probably rather have a 50-foot-video screen in their home playing HD movies, not in their store. But Apple’s on to something that may help small merchants figure out how to better merge brick-and-mortar operations with their online store:  community. By building a space that encourages meetings, collaboration and a “town square” feel (and giving more opportunities to try products in-store) even smaller merchants can provide a place that customers enjoy visiting – and even pay a few dollars more – than picking and clicking online.

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