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New Apple Store: An example of evolving retail?

Apple is introducing a big design revamp for Apple stores with their flagship in San Francisco, meant to reflect the company's "greater role in the community." 

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    Apple unveiled its newest store in San Francisco on Thursday featuring a new look and new amenities that it will roll out to its nearly 480 stores worldwide. (May 19)
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A new kind of Apple Store is opening on Saturday.

Across the street from the iconic San Francisco store, Apple is opening a new flagship aimed at being more than just a store. The trademark 42-foot glass doors will open to a kind of Apple-designed public forum, with a conference room, advice for small businesses, concerts, and a layout that blurs the line between inside and outside.

"This is not just a store," Angela Ahrendts, Apple's senior vice president of retail and online stores, said in a Thursday press release. "We want people to say, 'Hey, meet me at Apple.... Did you see what's going on at Apple?" 

But what is the point of opening a store designed to be more than a store?

Apple is not the first business to engaged in an aesthetic revamp for physical store locations. More and more large companies have taken a designer's eye to rebuilding or in some cases building stores to for greater aesthetics, layout, and convenience.

Taco Bell, the Mexican-American fast food giant, is trying out four new restaurant designs this summer as sales have slipped to fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle, as The Christian Science Monitor reported Thursday. And Amazon, which has spent decades helping people ditch the physical shopping carts in favor of virtual ones, is opening a second physical book store.

"Design has never been more important for stores and brands to remain relevant and compelling to the modern customer," Quentin Bossom, format manager at Dixons Retail, wrote in an article for Retail Week. "We can provide the best product range, at great prices, and great service to boot. But if a store's layout and appearance aren't welcoming enough to entice a customer in and engage them, it's going to be very difficult to sell a thing, and even harder to develop a loyal customer base or motivate your store team."

For Apple, the new design offers the chance to showcase the brand, and do so while becoming an integral part of the city.

"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," Ms. Ahrendts said.

The wall separating the store from the city is made almost entirely of glass, blurring the line between where the city stops and the shop begins. The Genius Bar, where Apple customers can meet with an expert to get training for their advice or general customer service, is now called the Genius "Grove" and lined with actual trees, surrounded by circular benches. A boardroom is also available for small businesses or startups to meet with tech experts. And "The Forum," an open space inside the store with a 6k video wall, will showcase local art and musical talent.

A courtyard next to the building has free WiFi and seating for a couple hundred participants. It features a refurbished sculpture from San Francisco-native Ruth Asawa. "The Plaza," as it's called, will be open to city residents 24 hours a day, and regularly feature live music.

The overall feel of the new space: something akin to a "town hall," according to Ahrendts.

The new design is making its debut in San Francisco, but elements of it are intended to make appearances throughout the 477 physical locations owned by the tech company.  

"With this new concept of a town forum, it makes the Apple store experience more inviting for not only the customers, but even onlookers and people who are walking by here and want to come and see what Apple's up to," Tim Barjarin, tech analyst for Creative Strategies, told the Associated Press.

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