A Study of Apple Incorporation's Retail Strategy
Today’s market is such where there are a lot of brands which attract the attention of the consumers and as a result, it is becoming all the more difficult for the consumers to choose a good quality product. Simultaneously, this situation is also proving to be a tough one for various players in the market, especially in the retail segment. In order to sail through this current situation, companies need to differentiate themselves in terms of quality and service from the competitors. Apple incorporation very well understands this demand of the situation and accordingly offers distinguished services along with an exceptionally high quality product.
Initially, Apple used to sell its various products through different resellers, such as retail chains like Best buy, etc. Apple was dependent upon its resellers to such an extent that even its corporate accounts were being operated and managed by the channel members of Apple incorporation. Initially, Apple was not into direct contact with its customers and its role was only limited to providing products to the customers. However, due to various reasons Apple decided to opt in for and online stores. Accordingly, in the year 1997, Apple opened its first online store which witnessed tremendous increase in sales volumes and market share. This concept of Apple was a new one and it also catered to the customized needs of the clients. However, with this step towards retailing, Apple did not do away with its resellers. It allowed some of its resellers to also sell its products online. This retail strategy of Apple incorporation proved to be a great success as it resulted in the revenue of US dollar 12 million from online stores in the first month itself (Vinaya Kumar Mylavarapu, 2005).
With the successful launch of online stores, there grew a very strong speculation that Apple could go in for opening physical stores, in order to capitalize upon the market. As per the speculations existing in the market, Apple incorporation went on to open physical stores in different parts of the world. These apples stores were not only unique and one of a kind in nature but were also immensely successful in catering to the needs of the customer’s and increasing the revenue and bottom line of the company. According to Steve jobs, Apple incorporation went in for opening physical stores in order to capitalize upon the new market segments. In a research by Owen (2004), it was found that prior to Apple incorporation opening physical stores, 95 per cent of the people did not consider buying Apple when they were supposed to buy a personal computer. Therefore, initially, Apple targeted that even a 5% of the target market turns to Apple as of choice for their personal computer, the sale of Apple would grow double. In actuality, it is well known that after initiation in the retailing industry, the revenues of Apple in corporation have grown manifold.
From the year 2001, Apple has come a long way in its retailing initiative by opening close to 300 stores. The experience of Apple store has been much appreciated by different eminent personalities and different lessons have been given to various competitors of Apple. So much so, that the recent recession also seemed ineffective on the retail sales of Apple incorporation.
The present research will gain a comprehensive understanding into the retail strategy of Apple incorporation and bring out a framework for other plays in the same industry to achieve comparable success as that of Apple. Additionally, the present research will also bring out the critical success factors which are important in a retailing store so as to make it a success in the backdrop of the immensely successful retail chains of Apple incorporation.
1.2 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
Today is the era of competition. Consumers are exposed to numerous ads and images in an average day, therefore, making it all the more difficult for the consumers to remember each and every brand. This scenario has made it very difficult for the different companies also, especially in the retail industry, to sustain themselves. Adding to the current scenario, the recent global economic slowdown made things worse. In order to sustain themselves, it has become very important for different retail chains to understand the criterion which determine the successful or unsuccessful operations of any retail chain.
The present study will take a comprehensive look on the retailing strategy of the retail giant Apple, which has been immensely successful in establishing strong retail outlets. Thereafter, the present study will lay down a framework of different success factors for a retail outlet so as to ensure success.
1.3 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
The specific objectives of the present research as under:
- To gain a comprehensive insight on the retail strategy of Apple incorporation
- To comprehend the different challenges being faced by Apple incorporation in its retail approach
- To understand the various critical success factors for a physical store from the perspective of Apple incorporation
- To draw out a list of factors which can be incorporated in other retail stores so as to ensure their successful operation
1.4 STRUCTURE OF THE DISSERTATION
In the first chapter, Introduction, the author lays down the brief background for the present research and establishes the research objectives. Thereafter, in the Literature Review, the author critically examines different literature sources available on the topic and thereby draws some inferences upon various critical success factors for a physical retail store in the backdrop of such stores as maintained by Apple incorporation. Thereafter, in the next chapter, Methodology, the author explains the different methods, tools and techniques incorporated in the present research. In the next chapters, Findings and Analysis, the author presents a summary of the findings and thereby analyses the same. Thereafter, the author goes on to give its Recommendations and Conclusions on the present research. The figure below illustrates the structure of the present dissertation.
Figure 1.1 : Structure of the Present Dissertation
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
In today’s environment, there is so much of competition that different companies are striving hard to make the customers realize their different and unique propositions so that, the customers may become brand loyal or service loyal or store loyal. It is interesting to note that there are a lot of researches which relate to successfulness of a brand with its degree of brand recognition, thereby leading to brand loyalty. However, it is very important that companies should also acknowledge the importance of store loyalty which would lead to increased revenue for a particular company. Even Kotler (1984) stated that brand loyalty can be achieved as a result of prudent strategic planning in a company, but the organisation should not rest upon reaching the desired level of customer loyalty. By improving upon its store (the retail channel), the company can create a sustainable competitive advantage from its competitors and can offer its customers a delightful experience. Dick and Bassu (1994) state that since the competition has risen to a global level, therefore, the most challenging issue in today’s time to manage the loyal customers. Continuously improving upon the retail channels through which the company interacts with its customers can prove to be a major way in which an organisation can satisfy its customers.
There are also various researches in the literature which define the behavior of the retail consumers when they opt in for a particular retail store or a particular brand. The product category also plays a very important role for the consumers to decide upon a particular retail channel to shop in. For example, if a product category falls in a specialty product category, then the customer can even travel a lot of distance to look for that product and the location of the store does not matter to him. Rather, the consumer’s tendency will be to hunt for as much information as is possible for the consumer to collect and analyze and thereafter only will the consumer enter into a shopping transaction. If, on the other hand, the product category falls into an impulse buying category, then the purchase behavior of the retail consumers will be altogether different. If the consumer will be attracted towards that particular product, by merely seeing it on a retail stand or by getting attracted towards it by noticing its attributes, then the retail consumer would opt in for the purchase of that particular product. It may be noted that in this case, since the consumer did not plan to buy that product but due to his impulse behavior he entered into the purchase transaction, therefore, the merchandising and display of the product, ambience of the retail store, etc. play a very significant role.
In the literature, there is no one common model which can describe the buying behavior of a retail consumer on account of various parameters which should be necessarily present in a retail store or outlet. Cravens and Finn (1983) acknowledge this absence of a single model of conceptual nature, which could describe the buying behavior of the retailer. McGoldrick and Douglas (1983) added to the findings of Cravens and Finn (1983) by stating that different authors have taken into consideration different parameters in order to analyze the process of retail buying behavior and hence, there are no common elements or common platform wherein all these different findings can be synchronized and a common model can be formed which may be very useful in analyzing the retail buying behavior of a consumer. Having said this, it is also pertinent to be brought to light that some of the authors like Sheth (1981), McLaughlin and Rao (1990), etc. have tried to categorize the different findings of different authors and tried to form a concept wherein these different factors / parameters can be synchronized. Sheth (1981) in his research tried to find out different factors which an important for the retailer when he goes on for shopping, product wise. That is, in his research Sheth tried to categorize the different findings on the basis of the product category, thereby not choosing to go in for a qualitative method of data collection in a single retail outlet. Hence, the findings of the Sheth model can be said to be most scientific and rational.
However, it is also of utmost importance to consider that in any economy the demographics, especially the income level, of the target audience plays a very important role. If the nation is a developed nation, such as UK US, etc. then there will be less low price players in the market selling the same category. Moreover, in case of electronics all computer industry, the brand-name plays a very important role since trust is associated with the brand name itself. The role of retail store in case of the computer in industry is restricted to the extent of extending the brand persona of a particular brand. Hence, we see that in the present case of Apple incorporation, since the products are related to the digital music industry and computer industry, therefore, the brand name (branding) of the company plays a very vital role. Let us now understand this concept of brand significance on the retail buying behavior of the consumers.
Branding is the concept which has been defined in different ways by different authors. The concept of branding is also very variedly interpreted in different contexts. However, from each and every different interpretation of the concept of branding, the core meaning remains to be same, which is that the brand is a symbolic representation of all the different information, thought process, believes and values of a company or a service provider or a product. As a result of branding, there are at different sets of expectations which are generated from the brand in the eyes of different consumers consuming the brand (Olsson and Porsner, 2006). Martinson (2007) however, defines the process of branding as very much valuable but abstract asset of a company which acts as a source through which a company differentiates itself in the marketplace and offers its unique selling propositions to its consumers. He further adds that a brand is very important for the successful operations of a company as the brand depicts different levels of expertise of the company, trustworthiness of various sets of consumers and stakeholders in the company, the level of liking or acceptance of the product or service of the company and the level of credibility which is portrayed on to the company. Aaker (2007) further goes on to add to the findings of Martinson by stating that a brand is the summary of the culture and values in an organisation.
Martinson (2007) also goes on to add that in the computer industry, the brand-name plays a very significant role since the trust of the consumers in the technology used for the computers directly relates to the brand of the company selling the computer. In other words, the brand personality of the company is the main driver for sales in the computer industry.
2.2 IMPORTANCE OF BRANDING
In the words of Henkel (2007) branding holds such an important place in the minds of the consumer that only those companies will be able to complete and survive in the marketplace which are able to create a distinct place for themselves in the minds of the target customers by behavior branding. Complementing the behavior branding aspect, such techniques should be incorporated by different companies which would lead them towards undisputed and distinctive position. In the last decade, there has been so much of competition that it has led to saturation in the consumer goods and electronic items. As a result of this saturation in the retail industry, the consent of branding has a completely new role to play. Boyd and Sutherland (2006) state that nowadays the brand does not just refer to the product category or of the company but it also acts as a medium of communication of the beliefs and values of a company towards the customers. In addition to communicating the beliefs and values, the brand is also entrusted upon to communicate the different attributes of the product and the unique selling propositions. Henkel (2007) adds to this school of thought by stating that the symbol which represents the brand also adds value towards the process of communication. It actually means that there is more to the product than simply the attributes of the product. He further goes on to state that if the concept of branding is personified then it would lead to be transition of a consumer from whom he actually is to who he wants to become. In other words, it can also be stated that the brand of any company can be set to be a replica of ego of the consumer. Belk (1988) states that the concept of what we are holds very importance where the consumer decides to go in for a certain product. The possessions of a person offering help in deciding about the behavior and identity of the person. That is, “we are what we have”.
This is a very popular belief in consumer behavior literature which it relates the concept of self to the possessions of an individual. This notion states that the characteristic or identity of any person can be very clearly brought out by analyzing be possessions or material things he is having. In everyday practice the consumers are more or less dominated by this motion only. They prefer to buy those things which they feel are in accordance with their choices. Hence, branding is a concept which tries to fit in their frame of reference and is thus, quite considerable for the consumers while making the decision in respect of buying a good or service. Martinson (2007) also states that branding as a concept can also be brought into use when a company needs to create a reputation in the minds of the target customers for its products and services so that it may positively impact the future decision making process of the customers. Thus, as authors like Aaker (1997) put it, it is very important for a company as well as the consumer to comprehend the brand in the same manner as the company intends it to be understood, because of the fact that ultimately it is the brand which will yield revenues for the company. This school of thought is also supported by Henkel (2007) who states that a brand whose equity is high is more likely to increase sales.
Boyd and Sutherland (2006) state that in the marketplace the competition is ever-increasing and there are a lot of products which are similar in attributes to a particular product. In order to out-beat the competition, a company must invest its resources and time in development of a strong brand which will create a distinctive position of the company in the marketplace.
Hence, we see the importance of branding in the purchase process. However, it is very important to bear in mind that a clear majority of the consumers would first of all go to a retail store by a product of the company. The retail store can hence be treated as the face of the company, with which the consumer first of all interacts. Martinson (2007) states that the perception of the retail store in the minds of the consumers can be said to be very important in the perception making process of the consumers about the brand and the product of the company. Let us now go through the findings in respect of the retail outlet, registered in the literature.
2.3 THE RETAIL OUTLET
The retail outlet is the first and foremost place where the consumer interacts with the company. It can therefore be stated to be the first moment of truth that the consumer faces about the brand.
Nordfalt (2007), states that when a consumer enters the store then there can be a lot of approaches which can be incorporated by the consumer in order to know or observe the deliverable of the company. The first of the foremost thing which comes to the notice of a consumer is the placement or management of the stores interiors. Nordfalt (2007) further adds that the retail store places its products in a different manner than the usual, then there is more probability that there would be more sales from that store. However, it must Nordfalt (2007) cannot be applicable to different retail stores as the nature and category of products make a lot of difference. Also, it is interesting to note that in this finding the concept of brand building and brand recognition is absent. Kotler (2002) propagates another theory by stating that the consumers should rather think from the perspective of the buyers. They should think in such a manner that what would a retail buyer be thinking when he would enter into a particular retail store for the purchase of a particular product category. This method of analyzing things from the buyers perspective forms a subset of psychological analysis. Kotler (2002) also states that in another very important factor which plays a critical role in the perception formation process in the minds of the consumers is the store atmosphere which is created by both physical as well as nonphysical elements. As a result of the store atmosphere combined with the aesthetics, the consumers can witness the feelings such as happiness, exciting, sad, etc. (Sewen and Tellefsen, 2006). The final aim of the company always is to ensure that a customer feels positively about the store which in turn has been noted to have a very high correlation with customer satisfaction as well as customer loyalty to store (Baker, 2002). A lot of researchers have conducted different research and are of the common view that when the consumer is inside a store then he forms an impression from all the communication which he can receive through his five senses. That is, the consumer perceives everything which he touches, hears, smells and sees (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982; Nordfalt, 2007).
In the section above we have already seeing that how much important is the concept of branding for the competitiveness and successfulness of a retail brand. Thereafter, it is also surfaced that how much important is the role of a good retail outlet. Baker (2002) combines in these two important aspects and states that in a retail store the atmosphere should be such which should fill in the attributes of the brand. Sewen and Tellefsen (2006) go a step further and state that everything in a store should be in accordance with the brand. That is, the furniture, music, brochures, lamps, lighting, etc. should be arranged in such a manner which gels well with the message of the brand. Aaker (1997) supports the school of thought by stating that the store and everything situated in the store and with the product should spread the same message as that of the brand. He further goes on to state that the message of the brand can be said to be successfully communicated if it sends across the same message which is perceived in the same manner to the employees as well as its customers. There are a lot of researches which state that if the consumers experience difficulty in decoding the message sent by the brand then instead of staying neutral towards the brand, the consumers develop a negative perception about the brand (Bendapudi and Bendapudi, 2005; Henkel, 2007). On the contrary, if the message spread by a the brand and complemented by the retail outlet, is felt as easy to understand and comprehend by the consumers, then they would develop a positive image / perception about the brand and their attitude / behavior towards the brand would be positively impacted. Martinson (2007) stated that it can be very truly said that the retail outlet is very crucial to the success of a retail brand. This is because if the image of a retail outlet is favourable in the minds of the consumers, then it would fuel store loyalty and as a result would lead to increased sales and satisfaction. On the other hand, a negative image about the retail outlet in the minds of the consumers would lead to negativity in respect of the brand as a whole.
2.4 INTERACTION WITH PERSONNEL
During the time when the consumer is inside the retail store, then he also interacts with the sales personnel. Grewal and Sharma (1991) state that the salesperson plays a very important role in deciding whether the consumer is going to opt in for purchase of a particular good or not. They feel that the influence of salesperson is so much that it alters or creates a satisfying experience in the minds of the target customers and therefore, the salesperson acts as the company’s face for the consumers. Henkel (2007) also supports this notion by stating that the salesperson acts as very important means of communication for a brand as the consumer would try to make out a perception of the brand from the experience he has by visiting the retail store. In a retail store, if the consumer is satisfied with the experience (which is dominated by the interaction of the consumer with the salesperson) then the consumer is most likely to become brand loyal and have a positive attitude towards the brand.
Martinson (1997), states that the ultimate goal of any company operating in the retail industry is to have customers which are satisfied from it. Customer satisfaction is the first step towards customer loyalty which means repeated sales from the same customer. Moreover, Oliver (1997) adds to this about finding by stating that the salesperson the first people or representative from the company which in the face to face with the consumers and hence, the consumer has related the personality of the salesperson to that of the company or brand. Hence, the role of salesperson becomes all the more important in client conversion. Henkel (2007) states that the mere presence of a salesperson inside a retail outlet makes him an essential part of the whole concept of the retail store. Baker (2002) states that the impressiveness of a salesperson can be determined by the kind of clothes he wears, his behavior and facial expressions, his attitude and attentiveness, etc. he further adds that the concept of “living the brand” is one when the salesperson or all of the employees present inside a retail store start to behave in accordance with the brand values of the company.
From the review of the literature, few key components for retailing have come to surface. Kotler (1984) and Dick and Bassu (1994) laid on the importance of brand loyalty and managing customers so that they become loyal to the retail outlet. They lay down the importance of brand loyalty because of the fact that they feel that this factor is the most dominant factor when a consumer enters into the buying process for a product. Thereafter, a lot of researchers such as Cravens and Finn (1983), McGoldrick and Douglas (1983), Sheth (1981), McLaughlin and Rao (1990), etc. have acknowledged the absence of any single model from which the buying behavior of a retail consumer can be predicted. Hence, some of the authors such as Steth (1981), McGoldrick and Douglas (1983) state that it would be more appropriate if the basic elements are studied in detail.
The importance of the concept of branding has been reinsured as the most important concept which determines the buying behavior of a consumer (Olsson and Porsner, 2006). Adding to this, Martinson (2007) laid down the importance of the concept of branding as a differentiating factor which not only lures the consumers but also acts as a bond between the consumer and the company. Aaker (2007) also lays emphasis on the concept of branding. Thereafter, Henkel (2007), Boyd and Sutherland (2006), Belk (1988), Martinson (2007 and Aaker (1997) also lay a lot of stress on the importance of branding in the computer industry and how retailing companies operating in the computer industry should nourish its brand in order to gain market share.
In addition to the importance of branding different researchers like Nordfalt (2007), Kotler (2002), Sewen and Tellefsen (2006), Beker (2002), Holbrook and Hirschman (1982), etc. emphasized on the importance of the retail outlet in the process of a purchase transaction. Citing different reasons, these researchers felt that the brand outlet plays an extremely important role. Adding to the above findings researchers like Baker (2002), Bendapudi and Bendapudi (2005), Henkel (2007), Martinson (2007), Sewena and Tellefsen (2006) further stated in the research that the attributes of the brand individually effect the state of mind of the consumers and play a very important role in the building of the perception about the retail outlet. Moreover, the interaction of the consumers with the sales persons present in the stores were emphasized by authors like Grewal and Sharma (1991), Henkel (2007), Martinson (1997), Oliver (1997), Beker (2002), etc.
Hence, from the literature review it has been clearly brought out that this aspect of retail outlet and the atmosphere inside the retail outlet, which consists of the interaction of the salesperson with the consumers, play the most vital role in deciding the perception of the consumer regarding the brand. In the next sections, we will see how Apple incorporation makes sure that its retail outlets as well as its salespersons act as the conscience of the brand.
Ahmadi and Simmaring (2006) state that the concept by the name of research methodology can very well bifurcated into two sub concepts – research and methodology. They feel that the concept of research can be defined as a process through which a problem or ‘potential’ problem can be enquired into and results can be drawn out. On the other hand, the concept of methodology refers to the different tools and techniques and all the methods incorporated by a researcher in order to collect the requisite data, in order to do justice to the objectives of the present research (Blaxter, Hughes and Tigst, 2001). Blaxter (2001) further goes on to relate the concept of data collection / methodology by giving different examples of data collection techniques. He says that when the data is collected through questionnaires or focus group interviews or surveys, then it can indeed be said that different data collection techniques are being incorporated in the research in order to collect data. Brewerton (2001) defines the concept of research methodology as a very scientific approach which incorporates various tools and techniques which are relevant to the peculiar facts and circumstances in a particular problem in the backdrop of the situation which is being catered to.
3.1 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Saunders (2003) states that whenever the author has to undertake a research, than he needs to decide that which approach will he follow for carrying out his research. According to him, a researcher can undertake his research through the following approaches:
3.1.1 EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH
Yin(2003) states that when a researcher decides to incorporate experimental approach in his research then he needs to formulate various different hypothesis which cater to the problem in question and thereafter, the researcher selects a sample of respondents through which he would undertake his data collection process. Thereafter, the sample which has been selected by the researcher is subjected to the conditions of the researcher’s experiment and simultaneously, the results from the experiment are noted down and tested against each of the hypothesis to establish whether the hypothesis hold true or not.
3.1.2 SURVEY APPROACH
A survey approach is one which can very well be said to be a deductive research approach. This is so because in this particular case the researcher has the research problem in front of him and in order to find out the solution towards that problem, the researcher collects data from a large sample and thereafter, based on the data collected the derives upon a solution. Hence, it can be established that under this approach the author deduces upon a solution from the problem. It is important to note that this technique is most appropriate when the number of respondents through which the data has to be collected is large.
3.1.3 GROUNDED THEORY APPROACH
The ground theory approach should only be selected by a researcher when there is already a large amount of literature available on the said topic/ problem. This is so because the grounded theory approach is based upon the theory which is already registered in the literature. The researcher, after comprehensive study of already existing theory, builds a theoretical framework and thereafter, tests the framework developed in order to cater to the objectives of the research.
3.1.4 CASE STUDY METHOD
Saunders (2003) states that a research can also be carried out through a case study method. He says that a case study method is one where the problem is being studied in the live organisation and this method can be said to be the most practical method since the results are implemented in the live, practical situation. Therefore, all the peculiarities have to be taken into consideration and the research definitely becomes an exhaustive one. Marshan – Piekkari (2004) goes on to state that when the author has chosen to incorporate case study as the approach for his research then he needs to develop customized solutions after inferring the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of different problems being faced in a particular organisation.
In the present research, since the researcher needs to understand uniqueness in the retail strategy as incorporated by Apple Incorporation, therefore, the researcher feels that incorporating the case study the method would be the most appropriate. Moreover, since the findings in the present research cater to the research strategy incorporated by Apple Incorporation, therefore, they would be unique in nature.
3.2 DATA COLLECTION
It must be noted that the current area of research has not been discussed upon in the literature before and hence, there is lack of enough literature on the above topic. Moreover, the problem in question is an abstract one and can be said to be of an explorative nature. Therefore, in order to cater to the needs of the present research, different theories were taken into consideration which were found relevant or having some correlation with the present area of research. The different sets of theories which were used to study the background or the foundation in the literature in respect to the current topic can be divided into three categories, which are: first of all the author found it relevant to discuss the concept of branding and how branding was important for players in the retail industry operating in the electronic items domain. Thereafter, studies relating to the importance of different attributes of a retail store in order to attract the attention of a consumer were studied. The purpose of bringing into purview of study these kinds of researches was to bring out the relevance of different attributes of a store and their relative importance in order to attract new customers and make the existing customers store loyal. Moreover, the current research will not only act as the background for analyzing the attributes of the retail store of Apple Incorporation, but would also prove to be a foundation for different factors which need to be incorporated in order to ensure the successful operations of any retail store. Finally, the importance of salesperson inside the store is reviewed after extensively going through different literature available on this topic. These theories have been brought into the purview of study because of the fact that the salesperson’s also play a very important role when it comes to formation of a good or bad perception in the minds of the target customers. It is very true that when a customer enters into any retail store then this positive or negative attitude towards that store develops as a result of the type of interaction he has with the salesperson. The present scenario is very much true and applicable in the case of Apple Incorporation also. Therefore, when the success of a retail store is to be analyzed then it cannot be done without considering the type and importance of the salespersons involved in the process of sales of the product.
The above-mentioned approach which is followed in the present project report ensures that not only all the concepts which are involved in the present situation are covered but also that the findings of the present research are not limited on the context of its validity and reliability. In order to ensure the validity and reliability of the above said research, the author studied the findings of different authors and incorporated different theoretical approaches so that the findings of the study may be reliable and authentic.
The present study observes a case study method in order to validate and facilitate the empirical findings. The company Apple Incorporation was selected as the focal copy for the purpose of carrying out the present research. This was done so because of the fact that the retail stores of Apple have been immensely successful in not only attracting customers and generating sales but also in making the customers store loyal. Information in respect to the focal company, that is, Apple incorporation was mainly found out from the website of the company and thereafter, the author used this information as a base to find out more and relevant information for the proposed research by conducting interviews. A total of 7 interviews were conducted from different stakeholders in the retail chain of Apple incorporation. The interviews were conducted with the stores of Apple incorporation, the salesperson in the retail stores and the customers who visited those stores. Holme and Solvang (1997) suggests that when an author is investigating an explorative research, then he should incorporate qualitative research techniques for the process of collecting the data. This is so because qualitative research techniques offer the author a great degree of flexibility to collect data and even assessed those points which come up during the course of data collection. Hence, in the present case also the author incorporated semi-structured interviews to collect data. However, it is pertinent to mention here that the structures for each of these interviews conducted with different stakeholders in the retail chain of Apple incorporation were different, because of the fact that the aim of data collection from different stakeholders was different.
3.2.1 THEORETICAL FOUNDATION
Since the first part of building the theory was researching about the concept of branding as a marketing strategy in the retail industry. There was a lot of research and material available on the concept of branding as a marketing strategy in the retail industry. However, when the author tried to find some relevant literature in respect of the present issue, which is, how do the attributes of a store depict brand equity, then the author could find none. Therefore, it was alleged by the author that their existed a theoretical gap in respect of the present issue. Hence, in order to do justice to the objectives of the research, the author collected various research findings in respect of the concept of brand and the attributes of the store as well as the importance of the salesperson inside the retail outlet. The author also studied different books on marketing and branding in the retail segment and went through different articles and magazines relevant to the present issue. Internet search tools such as Google Scholar, Wikipedia, etc. were brought into use. The detailed and comprehensive information regarding the strategy of Apple incorporation was mainly derived from the interviews conducted in the retail outlets of Apple.
22.214.171.124 CRITICISM OF THE SOURCES
For the purpose of carrying out the present research, the main information which has been collected has been derived from different websites and articles and magazines which are available on the Internet. A substantial amount of information is also derived from the sources among the literature from different authors. However it must be noted, that the literature available on Apple covers different aspects of Apple incorporation in respect of its brand building activities and its successful operations in the arena of electronic items. With respect to the relevance of the data to the present research it must be understood that the website of Apple incorporation plays a very important role as the material available on the Web site is the one which Apple incorporation has directly put on air and which will act as a medium of communication. As Gustafsson (2007) puts it, the main communication tool for any company is its website since it is that source through which the consumers would get to know about the company and would form a perception about the operations of the company. In the present case, since the factor is due to wish the retail strategy of Apple has been a success needs to be evaluated therefore, the brand image of Apple as seen in the retail stores need to be highlighted. For the said purpose, the data from Apple incorporation’s website proves to be very essential.
During the process of collecting of data from different interviews with the different stakeholders in the retail chain of Apple incorporation, the author had used different expressions such as design, innovation, quality, simplicity, exclusiveness, creativity, etc. in order to find out the perception of customers in respect to the stated parameters. However, it must be noted that the answers of different questions which came from the customers of Apple incorporation cannot be said to be free from the limitations of perception power. That is, each and every person understands the meanings of these different concepts differently and to them, the different concepts hold different values or importance. Therefore, people in respond to a question in the matter they perceive it and hence, this may be a valid criticism of the source. However, in order to cope with this criticism the author made it a point to explain the concept to the different interviewees so that there may be no ambiguity in understanding what was asked and what was answered.
Additionally, it is also very interesting to note that the present study is restricted in the area of electronic goods and hence, cannot be generalized to all the retail industry. In the electronic goods industry, the perception of the consumer in regards to the quality of the product also has a very important role to play unlike that of the garment industry. Therefore, the methodology incorporated to carry out the present research varies a lot for the computer industry. This peculiarity of the present research has been taken into consideration while designing the data collection techniques for the research.
For the purpose of carrying out the present research, those Apple retail stores were selected which were considered to be as Apple premium retail stores. This was done because of this fact was taken into consideration that when retailers went into Apple stores they had already made a choice that they would want to go in for Apple products are not a product of some other company. Therefore, it will not be wrong to state that the consumers already share an intimate relationship with the brand Apple and they have already decided to go in for the same product. Hence, the relationship shared between Apple retail outlet and retailer cannot be compared with that relationship which is shared between any other retail outlet and consumer. Moreover, the author decided to conduct interviews with only one chain of retail stores of Apple incorporation so that there may be no ambiguity in understanding the concept of the retail strategy selected by Apple.
Hence, in order to carry out the process of the research three Apple outlets were chosen which were centrally located, since the author feels that the location of a retail store is very critical to the number of footfalls it witnesses and a retail outlet with more number of footfalls would definitely be better for the present research.
Winter (1992) states that during the process of an interview the answers from the respondents would be biased because of the fact that they would be conscious all the time about what they’re saying as it needs to be reproduced in the same manner. Therefore, if the respondent is ensured that his identity will not be disclosed to any person or in the process of research then the answers which come from the respondent are more likely to be authentic and not biased. Hence, for the purpose of the present research the author conducted anonymous interviews, so that the validity and authenticity of the current study is not affected in a negative manner.
3.3 DATA ANALYSIS
In the present dissertation, the author has collected the data through personal interviews and observations and through primary research conducted on the Internet by the researcher. The data which has been collected through the process of interviews was first of all transcribed in order to make sure that no information is lost during the process of transcription of the data collected through interviews. Thereafter, the researcher prepared a summary of the findings which were very much necessary to be prepared in order to get a glimpse of the direction in which the consumers perception were going. Also, they step was very essential to insure that the research is being conducted in the right direction. Saunders (2003) states that when the data been collected through qualitative interviews, then a lot of care should be taken during the process of transcribing and summarizing the data because there are a lot of chances that there may be ambiguity which may exist.
In order to analyze the data, the author followed the framework as laid down by Miles and Huberman (1994). They state that when analyzing data, the three steps, as mentioned below, should be followed:
- Summarizing the Data : The first and the most important step which should be done is to summarize or reduce the data to important points so that the focus of the research may not be deviated.
- Presentation of the Data : It is also very important that the data which has been summarized in step one should be presented in a manner which is very clear and comprehendible for the researcher as well as by everyone going through the research.
- Analyzing and Concluding : When the data has been summarized and presented in a manner which is very reader friendly, then the next step for the researcher is to analyze the data and infer valid results from it. It must be noted that the results which the author infers from the data needs to be authenticated, so that they may form valid solutions.
In the present research, the author has found out the different concepts being incorporated by Apple incorporation in their retail outlets in order to attract and build a positive perception in the minds of the customers. The author has done so by collecting data through interviews and personal discussions with the company, the consumers as well as the salesperson.
3.4 STRUCTURE OF THE RESEARCH
The structure of the present research can be very well illustrated as below.
Figure 3.2: Structure of the Research
In the following section, the author presents the findings from the interviews and the data collected for the purpose of this research. First of all a brief introduction about the company Apple incorporation will be presented. This information has been collected from the website of Apple incorporation and from other related magazines and articles available from the Internet. Thereafter, the author will produce the summarized findings of the interviews conducted with the salesperson in Apple retail store. In order to ensure that the findings are presented in the structured and comprehendible manner, the findings have been broadly divided into three sections, which are: (i) Apple Incorporation retail store (ii) relationship between Apple incorporation and its retail chains, and (iii) the salesperson inside Apple retail stores. Thereafter, the findings from different interviews conducted have been presented.
For the process of data collection, the author had conducted interviews with the sales personal and customers of Apple incorporation from three different retail outlets of Apple. It must be noted that all these three retail outlets belong to a single chain but are different in their attributes, that is, size, different product assortment, a different design, different interiors and different location. It must be noted that since all the interviews which had been conducted were conducted on an anonymous basis, therefore, the author has not made any bifurcation on the basis of different stores. Having said this, it must also be noted that there existed significant differences between the broad layout and findings of each retail outlet.
4.1 APPLE INCORPORATION
Kanhey (2006), states that Apple incorporation is a very strong brand in the computer industry and it needs no introduction. It is a well represented brand and has been immensely successful in creating a unique position for itself in the computer industry, thereby gaining a group of customers who are brand loyal (Ollson & Porsner, 2006). Apple follows a strategy which gells well exactly with its brand culture. When Apple ventured into the retail segment, then also its brand strategy was completely reflected with the retail outlets it opened. Let us have a brief look upon the background of the company.
4.1.1 APPLE INCORPORATION-COMPANY BACKGROUND
In the year 1977, on January 3 Apple incorporation came into being in the city of California. Steve jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne were the founders of this electronic giant, Apple incorporation. The first product of Apple was Apple I Personal Computer Kit. Since the launch of this product Apple never looked back. In the year 1980, Apple revolutionized the computer industry by launching its product Macintosh which can be said to be the reinvention of a PC. Since then, Apple has been leading a continuous endeavour in the computer industry to promote innovation and technology in the computer industry with its different, unique and highly acceptable computers, operating systems and the different applications.
Adding another feather to their cap, Apple incorporation even topped the world’s most innovative companies list, thereby beating the most established and most innovative companies like Google, Sony and Toyota. It is also pertinent to mention here that Apple is also a part of the revolution which is being witnessed in the digital media industry as Apple has launched its flagship products, iPod and iTunes. Moreover, this electronics giant Apple has also ventured into the mobile phone market by launching its iPhone. Thereafter, in another significant development Apple changed its name in the year 2007 from Apple Computer Incorporation to Apple Incorporation.
In order to market its products, Apple brings into use different communication strategies within a multichannel approach. This means that different channels are being used by Apple incorporation in order to communicate its messages and Apple takes due care that each of the channels selected complement each other. Gustafsson (2007), states that the most important channel of communication which has been adopted by Apple incorporation is its own homepage. He states that Apple has incorporated an online shop on the website whereby it is able to control each and every aspect of communication from its end. However, this is not it, Apple incorporation has further gone ahead to open retail outlets for reaching to its customers. As of now, Apple incorporation owns and operates over 200 Apple retail outlets around the globe. Moreover, in some countries Apple has also gone ahead to arrange for premium resellers (who are basically Apple’s retailers). These retailers of Apple in corporation called as Apple premium resellers (APR) and Apple has given them a lot of guidelines to follow and comply with. The guidelines which have been given by Apple incorporation to these APRs are very exhaustive ones and range from the location of the store to the internal environment and from the external design to the different marketing campaigns which are to be undertaken, as well as the level of education of the salesperson. The strategy behind these set of comprehensive guidelines is to ensure that the customers visiting the retail outlets get a feel of the brand, Apple Incorporation when they visit any retail outlet. Moreover, Apple conducts regular follow-ups and updations in the guidelines and also conducts checks to ensure that all these guidelines are being complied with, inside the retail store.
4.1.2 APPLE INCORPORATION – THE BRAND
Kanhey (2006), states that if Apple incorporation did not have a brand then they would not have been able to survive till now. He goes on the state that Apple has is its brand and according to him, it is just the branding strategy of Apple incorporation which distinguishes it in the marketplace and makes it come out as the winner. He further states that there is nothing special in Apple’s products, it is just a brand-name and fancy.
Gustafsson (2007), states that Apple incorporation has a very strong brand and it is undoubtedly the market leader in the computers and electronics industry. In order to maintain and retain the brand equity, Apple has to constantly and very prudently look into the communication strategy of its brand in almost every context. This explains why the criterias which have been incorporated by Apple for their branding and marketing communication are very strict and comprehensive in nature. So much so, that the logotype of Apple cannot be reproduced under normal circumstances and even if it has to be reproduced then it needs to be perfectly same in regard to the size and appearance. These stringent criterian also apply to the APRs of Apple incorporation. As a result, all the marketing campaigns and branding strategies are the brainchild of the parent company Apple incorporation and they are sent out to the retail outlets for execution.
Moreover, the Brand Apple also enjoys a lot of customer loyalty in respect of its retail outlets, products, brand equity. Kanhey (2006) further goes on to state that brand loyalty for the product of Apple – Mac is well known and can be said to be a subculture in itself. In the website of Apple, it has been mentioned that there are about 25 million customers of Macintosh computers across the globe. Apple incorporation claims that the customers of Mac are not just simple customers of an operating system but they are into love with the product and they are crazy for it. The customers of Mac have such a high degree of passion for the product Mac that it can easily be said to be an obsession. Kanhey (2006) further goes on to bring out the relevance of building brand for Apple by stating that in the year 1990 when company crisis hit the United States of America then Apple was saved due to the cult of Mac. Had it not been the product Mac, then Apple Incorporation would have gone out of business. There are a lot of stories of passion for Apple’s product Mac, one of them worth mentioning is about an elementary school teacher from US (California) by the name of Swerdan. She was so much passionate about Apple’s Mac range of computers that she wrote and recorded a full album of songs dedicated to Mac. So much is the passion for Mac and the founders of Apple that people even celebrate birthday parties of Mac operating system. Additionally, an important event which needs mention here is the MacWorld conference and Expo which is held two times in a year since 1985. On an average around two lakh people gather to attend this conference and people remain lined up for hours in order to see and witness the speech by Steve Jobs.
Having stated all these facts about the degree of passion that people share with regard to Apple incorporations products, it is natural for anyone to think that what is it that makes Mac users so attracted towards Apple’s product. Different people have different perceptions and therefore, their answers towards this question are different. However, marketers state that the main onus of this is the strategy of Apple incorporation towards its brand equity. Kahney (2006), states that the approach towards brand building of Apple is such which represents creativity and innovativeness in each and every step. Marc Gobe, marketing expert, states that the attachment towards brand Apple is such that people are not only intimately attached towards the brand but also love it. He further adds that the love for Mac has grown so much that the consumers have now started feeling that Apple is one of them only and it represents who they actually are.
4.2 INTERVIEWS WITH SALESPERSON IN THE APPLE RETAIL OUTLET
The author conducted personal interviews which were semi-structured in nature within all the three stores of Apple incorporation. All the interviews conducted were from the respondents aged between 18 and 35 years. Also, all of the interviewees had their own Apple product, it may be a PC, laptop, iPod or an Apple software.
4.2.1 APPLE RETAIL OUTLET
When the respondents were asked whether the retail outlet of Apple incorporation reflected all the brand values of the company Apple, then almost all of the respondents thought that the retail outlet completely reflected the brand values of Apple since the decision maker in almost every strategic move was the parent company, that is, Apple. During the process of interviews a lot of respondents also pointed out that there is a lot of control over all the exercises even in the day-to-day operations. It was brought to light that when a new retail store of Apple is about to open then Apple details out minutely the different plans for designing the interior as well as the exterior of the store. The respondents further brought to light that even the floor or the furniture which initially is purchased has to be approved from the company. To ensure that when a new store has opened everything has gone according to what is prescribed, Apple personals also visit the retail store.
However, there were other respondents who did not feel that their store resembles that of Apple store. They felt that their retail outlet did not pay a simplistic look and could not be compared to the standards of the company Apple. They attribute the reason for it to the possibility that after the store has been opened or when the story is working, then there is almost no or very little correspondence from Apple. The respondents are of the view that when Apple came in for the examination checkup of the store then it probably checked the overall look of the store only.
One respondent brought this thing to light that it is a practice of Apple to send mystery shoppers in the retail outlet of Apple so that the operations and the daily working of the retail stores may be examined. One of the respondents also added that Apple has a very vast indirect control over its retail outlets as all the products they belong to Apple and hence, the retail outlet cannot even think about not following the instructions of Apple. However, when it comes to exercising direct control on the retail outlet, then Apple incorporation is not so good at it.
4.2.2 SALESPERSONS IN THE RETAIL OUTLET
When the salesperson is enquired whether during the process of selling the product of Apple to the customers, they are made to express their original opinions about the product or simply sell the product, then a lot of respondents said that they were satisfied with the products of Apple and were free to express as many opinion as they wanted to for selling the product. They were not pressurized by the company to make false promises. However, in response to this question, it also came to surface that some of the respondents were not satisfied with the products of Apple themselves but were selling the products stating them to be the best in the market. It could be correlated by the author of that the different responses of the respondents were very well related with the job positions they were holding. If the respondent was satisfied with his job then he would be motivated enough and vice versa.
126.96.36.199 PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE OF THE SALESPERSONS
It was found that the salespersons were having good knowledge of the product they were selling. In all the three retail outlets the author asked the salesperson is to rate their product knowledge on a scale from one to five where five represented complete knowledge and one represented very little knowledge. The findings are as under:
Figure 4.1 : Self Perceived Product Knowledge
The author calculated the median of the ratings given by the respondents and it was brought out that the average knowledge that each respondent is having his good enough (median worked out to 4). The author resorted to calculating the median because of the fact that he used an ordinal scale which would give skewed distribution, hence, median will be the best suited to describe and summarize the data.
Thereafter, the respondents were also asked whether they on their own were supposed to segment the target customers in respect of their choices or not. A question will also raised to respondents as to how did they perceive the attitude of the company Apple towards its products. Moreover, it was also asked to the respondents as to why they suggested the use of the product Mac to a customer. The figure below illustrates the answers.
Figure 4.2 : Perception of Apple and Respondent arguments why to use Mac
188.8.131.52 KNOWLEDGE ABOUT APPLE INCORPORATION
When the respondents were asked about their perception of the company’s interest in their customers and the company’s values catering to the needs of the customer, then the results were lower than that of the product knowledge caution. The illustration below presents the answers.
Figure 4.3 : Perception about knowledge and values of Apple
184.108.40.206 TRANSFER OF VALUES FROM APPLE TO THE RETAIL STORE
Salespersons in three different stores were asked whether whatever they have learnt about the company as well as the product has been gained from which source. All the respondents were asked to rate from among three sources, that is Apple, friends and colleagues, self learnt. The illustration below presents the results.
Figure 4.4 : Source of Knowledge
One of the respondent pointed out that the main source of education imparted by Apple is from e-mails, educational courses, seminar is and training programs. Also, Apple sales has also incorporated online training programs wherein the salesperson do not need to attend the seminar or workshop but can learn sitting in their own retail outlet. Also, Apple ensures that two three times in a year, it conducts seminars. The nature of the seminars can be said to be either only sales oriented or product oriented. The sole decision of who should attend a seminar lies with the store manager. During the course of interviews it was also brought to light that Apple also needs its product resellers to gain some points in ASTO program. However, the respondents feel that it is a very easy program for imparting turning on products of Apple and it is very easy to score in it. Moreover, the respondents state that Apple maintains a regular contact with each of its retail outlet by way of e-mails. It is also important to note that the frequency of e-mails depends upon the job position.
220.127.116.11 PERCEPTION WITH REGARD TO THE RETAIL OUTLET
The respondents were put different questions regarding their perception of the retail outlet of Apple in respect to different parameters. The response of respondents with respect to the simplicity in a retail outlet of Apple is as under:
Figure 4.5: Perception of Retail Outlet with regard to Simplicity?
It can be very see clearly seen in the figure above that a majority of the respondents feel that the Apple retail outlets are simple in nature and their designing has been so which leaves an impression of simplicity.
Thereafter, the respondents were asked about their perception regarding the retail outlet of Apple in terms of design. The figure below illustrates the answers given by them.
Figure 4.6: Perception of Retail Outlet with regard to Design
It can be very clearly made out from the figure above that a majority of the respondents feel that in terms of design, the Apple store is average and a little above-average. There is not even a single responded who feels that in terms of design the retail outlet of Apple is lacking. Thereafter, when a question was raised to the respondents to indicate their perception of the retail outlet of Apple incorporation in terms of innovation, then such a scenario appeared :
Figure 4.7: Perception of Retail Outlet with regard to Innovation
From the figure above it can be seen that the perception of different respondents are different in terms of innovation, when it comes to the retail outlet of Apple incorporation. In store two, a majority of the respondents feel that Apple is lacking in terms of innovation, while, in store three the responses on the respondents are equally distributed. This scenario depicts that they are different perceptions of different respondents in terms of innovation in the retail outlet of Apple. Thereafter when another question was raised to the respondents for them to indicate the relevance of retail store outlet in the domain of exclusivity, then the following answers were obtained:
Figure 4.8: Perception of Retail Outlet with regard to Exclusivity
From the illustration above, it can be seen that in store two the response of the respondents are very clearly balanced with most of the respondents giving it 3 number. However, in store three a clear majority of the respondents feel that in terms of exclusivity Apple store is on the higher side. Henceforth, another question was put to the respondents to indicate their perception of quality when related to Apple retail outlet. The illustration below depicts their answers.
Figure 4.9: Perception of Retail Outlet with regard to Quality
From the illustration above it can be seen that in both the stores a majority of the respondents feel that quality wise Apple is doing good and offers high-quality products. When the question was raised to the respondents to indicate that in their perception how special was the current retail outlet of Apple, in which they were working, in respect to other stores having the same category of products, then the following answers were obtained.
Figure 4.10: Perception of Retail Outlet with regard to other retail outlets of similar nature
From the illustration above it can be very clearly made out that a clear majority of the respondents in both the stores feel that their Apple retail store was far better in terms of different aspects when compared to other stores operating in the same product category. This shows that the salesperson of Apple incorporation felt as superior to other company’s salespersons.
The following section will discuss the findings which have been presented above and analyzed, as to how the branding strategy of Apple incorporation is reflected in its retail outlets.
5.1 THE SALESPERSONS
It was found out during the process of data collection that the product knowledge of the salespersons were high. Also, even the customers felt that all the salespersons inside the retail outlet of Apple had adequate knowledge and were helpful enough to guide the customer through the process of purchasing an Apple product. Hence, it can be stated that a high level of product knowledge was present in the salespersons of the retail store of Apple incorporation. It also came to light during the process of data collection that this product knowledge which was imparted to the salespersons had been transferred by Apple by way of e-mails, seminars, workshops, ASTO programs, etc. Inspite of the fact that each and every salesperson acknowledges the said communication channels which Apple uses to communicate its product information, it is interesting to note that almost all of the salespersons believe that whatever product knowledge they have acquired, and they have gained it through their own experiences. That is, the salesperson believes that the product knowledge which they have gained, they have gained through self learning process. Hence, it can be said that Apple incorporation undertakes a lot of activities in order to ensure that there is enough product knowledge in each and every retail outlet of Apple; however, it may be the case that Apple sends the message in a codified way which falls well in accordance with the codification strategy.
However, it is also true that whatever messages and product information is being transferred by Apple to its different stakeholders in the retail chain is in the form of theory and the salesperson of retail chains of Apple incorporation very rarely bring them to use. To convert this knowledge into tacit knowledge, the salespersons of Apple incorporation must incorporate such selling strategies in which they educate the customer about the product as well. Thereafter, they will gain the actual product knowledge and this knowledge would be long-lasting. However, it is also pertinent to mention here that this way when the salesperson learn about the product, they feel that they have learnt it on their own and do not give credit for this to Apple.
Apple incorporation understands this fact that knowledge in the salespersons is very much important for the successful selling and a pleasant experience of a customer. If a salesperson is able to match the information of the products with the requirements of the customer, then only will he be able to close the sale. Additionally, the salespersons of Apple are also expected to match the requirements of different customers to the products available, therefore, it becomes very much imperative that they should have the complete knowledge about the different products of Apple incorporation.
Apple provides very little knowledge on selling skills for the salespersons. Whatever knowledge it does provide on selling skills is done through the ASTO program. In the ASTO program, Apple Inc makes it a point to act out different situations which may occur in the retail outlet of Apple and how of the salesperson can tackle to those situations. It must be noted that this form of knowledge can be said to be a codified knowledge which Apple is imparting to its salespersons. The salespersons can very well relate to such situations and in case such a situation occurs again, then that salesperson would be in a much better position to handle the same. Since the salesperson can relate to this knowledge which has been imparted during the ASTO training programs, therefore, they develop a liking for the program and have rated it as very easy to score. It is very well understood by Apple that like this only the product knowledge has to be learnt by some practical situation, in a similar way the tacit form of selling skills would also be learnt by practically dealing with such a situation. Therefore, Apple Incorporation deals with such kind of training programs in the prescribed manner.
In addition to enquiring about the mode of interaction between Apple and the retail outlets, the salespersons were also enquired about whether they had the knowledge about the company Apple incorporation and its values. When the salesperson’s were asked to describe the company Apple in their own words, then the words which they brought into use while describing Apple were very much similar to those words which were already written in the questionnaire. Thereafter, when the same salespersons were asked to define the values of the company Apple, then also their choice of words were very much similar to the words already written in the questionnaire. The possible reason for this can be said that the values and believes of the company contained many emotional appeals, attachment, etc. which can never be transferred via e-mail or text messages. Therefore, to express such kind of emotions and values one needs a combination of codified and as well as tacit knowledge base. Hence, in the present case the salesperson could find the codified knowledge on the basis of the questionnaire which was supplied to them and they applied their tacit knowledge to change or alter the words which were written in it and come out with their own words and expressions to describe Apple as the company and its values.
Hence, it can be very well established that the salespersons of Apple incorporation understand the fact that knowledge is very important for successful operations and similarly the way of dealing with the clients plays a very important role. Thus, the salesperson of different retail outlets of Apple incorporation act as the conscious of the employer, that is Apple, and hence, form a smaller part of the bigger branding strategy the in the retail domain postulated by Apple incorporation.
5.2 APPLE RETAIL OUTLET
During the process of data collection, when the respondents were asked that whether they considered that their retail outlet reflected the values of the brand Apple incorporation, then the answers which came from the respondents were different. In one of the retail store the respondents did not feel that their store resembles that of Apple or reflected its brand values. However, in the rest of the two stores the respondents were all the view that the store did somewhat reflect the brand values of Apple. The reason for this variance in the answers given in different stores can be attributed to the fact that all the stores were different in the design and maintenance. Moreover, job satisfaction of different employees was also a major issue.
Another major reason which could be related to the number of footfalls could be the age of that retail outlet. It could be the case that the first retail outlet was perceived as not to reflect the brand values of Apple because of the fact that that it was built much prior to the date when the rest of the two outlets will build. Hence, its design, both interiors and exteriors, were completely different with the theme of the rest of the two stores. This reason would also explain why in the first store the respondents did not believe that a simplistic look was present. On the other hand, since the rest of the two stores were built afterwards and under the guidelines of Apple incorporation, therefore, their design, their interiors, their lighting etc. was perceived to be simplistic in nature. In both the stores a pattern could very well be observed which some way or the another can be related to the brand apple.
Hence, it can be said that it is very important for a company to ensure that there is a pattern or similarity in the design, interiors, look, etc. so that commonality may be observed by the people working inside the retail outlet as well as the consumers visiting the retail outlet. Thus, it can be said that if a company wants to transfer its brand values in a retail outlet then it must acknowledge the fact that its involvement with the retail outlet, till the time it is brought into operation, is very important and it can be considered as the pre-requisite for transferring the brand values to be retail outlet. Moreover, the salespersons and the people working inside the retail outlet also play a very important role in maintaining the retail outlet. In their day-to-day working activities, the people working inside the retail outlets organize and operate the retail outlet and hence, they are the ones who need to carry on the image of the brand.
There are a lot of activities undertaken by the people working inside a retail store, such as, delivering the products, and packing and unpacking of the products, stacking the products, organizing them, displaying information sheets and posters, etc. One may consider that these are very small things which are done in each and every store, however, it cannot be ignored that all these activities are such which cast an impression on the overall image of the store. When, in some cases, it becomes very hard to decide upon that what all factors really matter, when the image of a store is to be measured, then, it can be considered that these all may be the factors which are really affecting the perception in the mind of the consumers.
In the present dissertation, and during the process of collecting data it can be said that the author came to know that in none of the three stores in which he had interviewed, the consumers or the people working in the stores felt that the retail store transmitted the feeling of Apple incorporation in toto. The second and the third store in which the author conducted interviews were still said to bear a lot of resemblance to that of Apple brand. The respondents who were working inside the retail outlet stated that the design was automatically in accordance with the values of Apple since it was Apple incorporation which exercised full control over the redesigning part. However, in the first and the second store there were a lot of respondents who felt that the stores were not at all in accordance with the values of Apple incorporation. They mainly pointed out to the unorganized and unordered assortment of the product ranges, they also brought the fact to light that there were too many products inside the store and hence, it became a mess. Moreover, the respondents also pointed out that in store number one a lot of products were displayed with a lot of wires and it created a non-sophisticated look. In addition to this, the respondents also brought to light the fact that there was a wall section in which the bags were displayed. In all the three stores the respondents felt alike that the section was messy and looked ugly and was not at all in accordance with the concept of Apple incorporation.
In the present scenario, it can be very well learnt that imparting of different kinds of knowledge is very important to the successful functioning and perception of a retail outlet. In the present case, it may be a common perception that when to unpack things and how to display them is a process which can be learnt very easily. However, in actuality the things will be different and the wrong timings of unpacking things and a different way of displaying those things can make a lot of difference in the minds of the consumers as well as the people working inside the stores.
When the respondents were put the question as to what all changes should be incorporated so that the store may bear a look which is in line with that of the Apple brand, then it was observed that the answers which they brought to surface were the vague in nature. This signified that the people working inside the stores did not have any idea that what should be done and simply referred to as the things should be managed in the systemized way. When the respondents were asked as to what was not in accordance with the brand, then, they could not exactly pinpoint it. This further relates to the fact that they faced difficulty in analyzing in controlling the atmosphere which led them to perceive it in the manner that it is not organized.
When such a situation arises where the sales of a product is dependent entirely upon the reputation of its brand in the market, then the organisation should take due care that its brand equity is very well maintained in the market and everything in relation to the product as well as the retail channel should fall exactly in line with the brand values of that organisation. The retail outlet of the organisation is the place which acts as the ‘moment of truth’ for the consumers as they interact with the employees of the company as well as the product of the company for the very first time in the retail outlet only. Hence, their perception towards is the brand and the product is dictated by their experience in the retail outlet. The employees of the organisation working inside the retail outlet should understand and comprehend the situation and therefore, facilitate the process of buying for the consumers. In order to ensure that the employees of the organisation act as the conscience of the employer, the employers should inculcate a positive feeling in the minds of the employees about the brand. They should “live the brand”. In order to do so, the organisation should educate and inform the employees of its retail chain so that not only the corporate values and strategies are communicated to the salespersons but also they improve their own knowledge. Apple incorporation understands this very crucial demand of the hour and undertakes a lot of activities to ensure that its salespersons gain full knowledge about their arena.
Apple incorporation understands the fact that it is its brand value that is differentiating it. It also acknowledges this fact that its products are among those which have a lot of competition in the market and the only different place or unique selling proposition that the company has is its brand name. Therefore, Apple incorporation undertakes a lot of activities to make sure that its brand name is transferred or is reflected in each and every element of its retail chain.
6.1 TRANSFERRING THE BRAND RELEVANCE TO THE RETAIL OUTLET
Apple incorporation undertakes a lot of activities to ensure that the brand values is replicated or reflected in the retail outlet as well. In order to ensure that the brand values of Apple incorporation are present in its retail outlets, Apple exercises very tight control on each and every process inside the retail outlet.
Apple incorporation understands that during the process of replicating the brand values to the retail outlet, it needs to cater to the different needs arising out of the different values which makes the brand. Therefore, Apple incorporation has resorted to two kinds of strategies when it comes to passing the values of the brand to the retail outlet. Firstly, Apple follows a codification strategy through which it inculcates the values of the brand and the different ways of working to the salespersons and different channel members of the retail chain through organizing of different training programs, e-mails, seminars, workshops, etc. Secondly, Apple incorporation also undertakes socialization strategy through which it transfers the values and the feel of the brand inside its retail outlets. The figure below illustrates the process of transfer of the brand values to the retail outlet incorporated by Apple incorporation.
Figure 6.1 : The Transfer of the Brand Values
From the illustration above, it can be very clearly seen that the brand Apple incorporation incorporates two strategies through which it transfers the values of the brand in its retail outlet. First of all, Apple incorporation uses words as a part of its codification strategy in order to pass its brand values and product knowledge. Secondly, Apple incorporation undertakes activities which incorporate a deeper understanding about the brand as well is the product and selling strategy, to help the salespersons inside the retail outlet close the deal. This is a part of the socialization strategy followed by Apple incorporation.
It must be noted that when the knowledge is transferred from the company to the retail outlet then each and every part of the knowledge is in the form of codified knowledge which needs to be decoded inside the retail outlets by the salespersons. That is, when Apple imparts the product knowledge or its values or imparts training regarding the sale process then it does so through training programs, e-mail, etc. However, the onus thereafter lies on the retail outlet to understand and apply all the knowledge, which has been sent by Apple incorporation, into the daily activities. This way only will the employees be able to inculcate the product knowledge into their day-to-day activities. The figure below illustrates this process of codification and decoding of the knowledge which is transferred from Apple to it’s a retail outlet.Figure 6.2 : The Transfer of the Brand - Process
6.2 WHETHER APPLE IS SUCCESSFUL IN TRANSFERRING ITS BRAND VALUES TO THE RETAIL OUTLET?
From the study conducted above it can be seen that the brand values of Apple incorporation have been successfully transferred to its retail outlet. When a person looks at the exterior of the retail outlet or goes inside to have a look at the interiors, the atmosphere or the persons working inside the retail stores, then any consumer can very well make out that this is what Apple incorporation is all about. Since, in two of the three stores the salesperson have complete knowledge of the product and even applied their intuition in order to relate the choices of the consumers to the products are available, therefore, it becomes a very pleasant experience for the consumer. The figure below illustrates the different behavior of the salesperson inside the retail outlet of Apple incorporation.
Figure 6.3 : The Brand in the Store
Hence, it will be very correct to state that Apple has been successfully able to incorporate the culture of its brand in all its retail outlets.
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