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Ron Johnson: What I Learned at Apple

Ron Johnson: What I Learned at Apple

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Ron Johnson, former Senior VP for Retail at Apple, writes about what he learned in his time at Apple. He knows what makes the Apple Store experience unique: “People come for the experience.”

Ron Johnson is most notable for having created Apple’s wildly successful retail store program (which is certainly an experience beyond mere shopping). Every time you walk into an Apple Store, you can see the effects of Johnson’s ideas.

Johnson, now the CEO of J.C. Penney, writes:

You don’t need to stock iPads to create an irresistible retail environment. You have to create a store that’s more than a store to people.

Think about this: Any store has to provide products people want to buy. That’s a given. But if Apple products were the key to the Stores’ success, how do you explain the fact that people flock to the stores to buy Apple products at full price when Wal-Mart, Best-Buy, and Target carry most of them, often discounted in various ways, and Amazon carries them all — and doesn’t charge sales tax!

People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they’re willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important — and this is something that can translate to any retailer — is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff, it’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better. That may sound hokey, but it’s true. The staff is exceptionally well trained, and they’re not on commission, so it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you’re happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it’s a product Apple doesn’t carry. Compare that with other retailers where the emphasis is on cross-selling and upselling and, basically, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don’t want or need it. That doesn’t enrich their lives, and it doesn’t deepen the retailer’s relationship with them. It just makes their wallets lighter.

Is there any indication in Johnson’s posting about the direction he hopes to take J.C. Penney? He writes: “There isn’t one solution. Each retailer will need to find its own unique formula. But I can say with confidence that the retailers that win the future are the ones that start from scratch and figure out how to create fundamentally new types of value for customers.”

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