In late October 2017, Apple unveiled an exciting new store format with its all-glass Apple Michigan Avenue location along Chicago’s riverfront. Part of what’s cool about the store is not just that its roof is meant to look like an Apple laptop, but that it’s more than a store. In fact, the company refers to the new format as a “Town Square,” which is meant to represent an open invitation for community and gathering, both inside and outside the store, even when it’s closed. This is Apple’s first Town Square store, and likely, the first of many more to come.

Apple is essentially treating its store as a product, selling “experience,” something that today’s consumers are seeking, especially younger and digitally native generations. Mintel Trend ‘Experience is All’ discusses how retailers’ overemphasis on speed, convenience and price has led consumers to crave experiences in physical spaces. What’s more, retail is not dead, and hasn’t been broken by the shift toward online shopping. It’s just changed – quite dramatically. Physical store presence remains incredibly important, especially in a category like this where hands-on interaction with products is so key to understanding how they work and deciding what to buy. Looking ahead, retailers need to be taking a cue from Apple and should reevaluate what the future purpose of the physical store actually is. Apple wants to create community and offer a place to discover, play and learn, all through a seamless and connected high-touch store experience that syncs with its mobile app and online site.

Apple is also looking to better integrate itself into the fabric of the surrounding community by offering a series of free sessions for a month dubbed “The Chicago Series” that feature themes or projects that can make a positive impact in the community such as starting a new business, art, writing and photography. The store also offers conference rooms for local businesses, a redesigned Genius Bar, augmented reality experiences and other educational classes like how to code.

Undoubtedly, the Town Square will become a retail destination, something that’s not too easy to create in today’s retail climate. Hopefully, customers choose to actually buy something once in a while rather than merely enjoy the space and the experience. But for now, Apple Michigan Avenue is beautiful and amazing. It’s warm and welcoming. It’s a playground for adults and kids alike. And it’s the future of retail.

Diana Smith is an Associate Director, Retail & Apparel at Mintel. She brings a unique background and perspective having previously spent her career growing up in advertising agencies, specializing in media planning and strategy.

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