How Angela Ahrendts' Burberry Experience Could Drive the Future of Apple Retail

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Later this year, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts will move to Apple as a new senior vice president in charge of Apple's retail and online sales efforts. Before Apple announced her hiring in October, Fast Company spoke extensively with Ahrendts across several non-Apple related interviews. However, since the announcement, she has unsurprisingly declined any interview requests.

In a wide-ranging profile, Fast Company looks at Ahrendts' job history and work style, the troubles Apple Retail has seen in the past few years, and how her experiences at Burberry could shape Apple Retail's growth going forward.


Ahrendts' is not a tech-savvy geek, but she has a vision for how to speak for customers. In an interview with Vishal Sikka, a development executive at SAP, Fast Co. discovered that she exhibits some Steve Jobs-esque tendencies:
She saw a wealth of information... what did customers respond to? What did they like or dislike? What did they share on social media? She thought there must be a way to collect and share such data with the whole Burberry team, as well as combine all six of Burberry's consumer-intel databases into one salesperson-friendly interface. "She wanted to merge the digital experience with the in-store experience," Sikka says. She did not know how to do that herself; she freely acknowledges that she is no digital native nor is she fluent in the language of coders and engineers, but she is very good at asking for help. "She is not a geek. She is not technical," Sikka says. "But she has a vision for things she wants to see, and she has a profound understanding of what technology can do for people."
Beyond that, Ahrendts put extensive amounts of technology into the sales experience at Burberry. She created a back-end system that allows every Burberry salesperson, across 330 stores, to access all the data that the company has collected on individual customers, including data as detailed as whether customers prefer to browse merchandise with assistance or to be left alone.

The company uses RFID tags extensively, allowing customers to bring a piece of merchandise to a mirror and a video will appear with a model wearing the coat. She also oversaw the creation of a website where users can upload photographs of themselves wearing Burberry attire, allowing users to share their looks and potential buyers to imagine themselves in Burberry garb.

Finally, Ahrendts appears to take a page out of Ron Johnson's communicative playbook. Johnson was famous for the videos he recorded to be played to all Apple Retail employees at quarterly staff meetings, and Ahrendts currently does weekly videos for Burberry's 11,000 employees.
At Burberry, she communicates constantly with her 11,000 employees, sending emails to thank them for a particular contribution and frequently jetting to offices and stores around the world (she tries always to be home by Friday night to be with her husband and her kids, who are 18, 17, and 13). She is adamant that significant news be shared first with staff, so that they never learn about their own company by reading the papers. She does a weekly video update--soon, perhaps, Apple staff will joke about how perfect Ahrendts's hair is, just as they did with Johnson. Her main message is usually "thank you." Sometimes that's an epilogue to an all-hands call to action: "I will sit there on the webcast and say, 'Okay, guys, we're nearing the end of the quarter and it's really tight, but I know we're gonna make it because there's 11,000 of you out there,' " she says. "'Could you do me a favor? Just one extra call to a customer? 'Cause if you do that, we'll win.'"
Angela Ahrendts will join Apple this spring and will continue in her role as Burberry CEO until then. In his email to Apple employees announcing the hire, Tim Cook said Ahrendts' shares Apple's values and "focus on innovation" and that she "embraces our view that our most important resource and our soul is our people".

Apple Retail has been without a leader since John Browett was fired in October of 2012.

Article Link: How Angela Ahrendts' Burberry Experience Could Drive the Future of Apple Retail
 

milo

macrumors 604
Sep 23, 2003
6,887
511
She cares what consumers want and listens to what they have to say? That actually sounds like the exact opposite of how Steve Jobs was.
 
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Rogifan

macrumors Core
Nov 14, 2011
21,052
24,814
From the article:
"I don't want to be sold to when I walk into a store. The job is to be a brilliant brand ambassador. Don't sell! No! Because that's a turn-off. Build an amazing brand experience, and then it will just naturally happen." - Ahrendts
Selling has always been distasteful to one camp within Apple that believes that the products should sell themselves--and that happy users are the greatest brand ambassadors. A leader of this cohort: designer Jonathan Ive. Even in the store's earliest days, he had some sharp criticisms. "For Jony, they were always selling too hard," says Jeff Zwerner, a former Apple creative director who worked closely with Johnson and the rest of the retail team.
Sounds like she and Ive are on the same wave length. Hopefully they'll be joined at the hip. :)
 
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WisdomSeed

macrumors newbie
Oct 25, 2012
26
0
Its nice to know that Apple may finally add some kind of profile of the customer to their retail employees. Because it would be nice for them to know which Apple products I own, so I don't get treated like a leper in the stores.
 
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brianb568

macrumors newbie
Apr 9, 2013
25
0
She cares what consumers want and listens to what they have to say? That actually sounds like the exact opposite of how Steve Jobs was.
Why don't you stop insulting dead people? How disgusting.
 
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smithrh

macrumors 68020
Feb 28, 2009
2,480
923
Back to the store topic:

Hopefully someone, somewhere will fix the store experience when you know what you want, and you want to buy it right then and there.

I went to what I wanted to buy. I then turned around (e.g., not facing the wall) and tried to make eye contact with one of the hordes of Apple folk around. I waited 8 minutes (I timed it) before I raised my hand, and even after doing that it took 2 minutes for someone to notice.

That's a long time to wait for a over $1000 purchase.

The number of times I've actually needed help at the store are few. Yes, people who read MacRumors are in the distinct minority, but it wouldn't take much at all to fix this. No, I don't want an app. Give some poor schmuck a bright yellow tshirt and spread the word that that's the person to go to for quick purchases...

Rant over...
 
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GoCubsGo

macrumors Nehalem
Feb 19, 2005
35,753
146
Why don't you stop insulting dead people? How disgusting.
I'm not sure that was an insult so much as an observation. It doesn't seem to be a secret that Apple has never really been in the business to give consumers what they seem to cry for as much as what they seem to think we want. I've said it a number of times, I've read it a number of times, and I will continue to think that way. For example, many people discussed wanting a larger iPhone. When it came it was only larger by way of height and not width. People buy the phones, they continue to buy it, and Apple counts their pennies yet still, people tend to long for some massive screen iPhone to be released. This is not to say everyone wants it, just that you do see people on the internet favoring this idea.

Again, observations aren't really insults unless you are somehow overly sensitive to what is said about the late Steve Jobs. If the poster said Steve Jobs was a tool or something, then that's really an insult. A silly one, but an insult nonetheless.

She sounds like someone who can be good for the company given her past experience.
 
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crossifixio

macrumors regular
Mar 21, 2007
177
3
London
Why don't you stop insulting dead people? How disgusting.
Not sure if that was sarcasm but Steve didn't care what consumers want in a way and this was unique because he managed to create products that people never imagined! If you read his biography by Isaacson you will get the idea!
 
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Illusion986

macrumors 6502
Mar 12, 2009
354
3
Back to the store topic:

Hopefully someone, somewhere will fix the store experience when you know what you want, and you want to buy it right then and there.

I went to what I wanted to buy. I then turned around (e.g., not facing the wall) and tried to make eye contact with one of the hordes of Apple folk around. I waited 8 minutes (I timed it) before I raised my hand, and even after doing that it took 2 minutes for someone to notice.

That's a long time to wait for a over $1000 purchase.

The number of times I've actually needed help at the store are few. Yes, people who read MacRumors are in the distinct minority, but it wouldn't take much at all to fix this. No, I don't want an app. Give some poor schmuck a bright yellow tshirt and spread the word that that's the person to go to for quick purchases...

Rant over...
I always feel like an idiot walking around apple store looking for help and when I find someone lots of the time they ask me to wait for another person or send me across the store "see that guy with blond short hair? Ask him he will help you with your purchase." ......But last time I went they had small corner that was fenced off with one guy responsible for popular product purchases where you tell him what you want he hands it to you takes your money and you can leave without having to chase anyone down so they are doing some changes
 
Comment

Alumeenium

macrumors regular
May 15, 2013
200
67
Back to the store topic:

Hopefully someone, somewhere will fix the store experience when you know what you want, and you want to buy it right then and there.

I went to what I wanted to buy. I then turned around (e.g., not facing the wall) and tried to make eye contact with one of the hordes of Apple folk around. I waited 8 minutes (I timed it) before I raised my hand, and even after doing that it took 2 minutes for someone to notice.

That's a long time to wait for a over $1000 purchase.

The number of times I've actually needed help at the store are few. Yes, people who read MacRumors are in the distinct minority, but it wouldn't take much at all to fix this. No, I don't want an app. Give some poor schmuck a bright yellow tshirt and spread the word that that's the person to go to for quick purchases...

Rant over...
order what you want online for pickup if you "know" what you "want"

it's stupid easy, otherwise you look like a tire kicker, just like every other punter in the store
 
Comment

Alumeenium

macrumors regular
May 15, 2013
200
67
it was easier when the teams had different shirts

I can't tell the difference between a genius, a manager, and a salesperson

who is supposed to help, why is everyone else standing around

why don't you know the answers to my stupid questions

srsly though if Apple made their computers any more "dumbed" down for grandma, we'd have some real problems, they need to stop catering to the bottom of the barrel tech morons, go shop at Walmart…
 
Comment

Atrin1

macrumors regular
Oct 4, 2012
185
0
Dallas
Back to the store topic:

Hopefully someone, somewhere will fix the store experience when you know what you want, and you want to buy it right then and there.

I went to what I wanted to buy. I then turned around (e.g., not facing the wall) and tried to make eye contact with one of the hordes of Apple folk around. I waited 8 minutes (I timed it) before I raised my hand, and even after doing that it took 2 minutes for someone to notice.

That's a long time to wait for a over $1000 purchase.

The number of times I've actually needed help at the store are few. Yes, people who read MacRumors are in the distinct minority, but it wouldn't take much at all to fix this. No, I don't want an app. Give some poor schmuck a bright yellow tshirt and spread the word that that's the person to go to for quick purchases...

Rant over...
i had the total opposite experience you did.

when i went in to buy my ipad air 32gb, it took me probably 5 minutes in total to walk out the door with my new gadget. the door person asked if i need help, i said ipad air 32gb space grey please. she took me to another person that was in charge of the sales of the ipads. she told him what i wanted, he grabbed it, asked if that was it and began ringing me up. i had 3 visa gift cards that totaled to $325 plus the remaining balance on my debit card. and it was a breeze.
 
Comment

anomie

Suspended
Jun 29, 2010
557
152
They have to do something. Apple stores are the most cold and boring places I have ever been to. All those ikea style tables make it look like a warehouse at best.
If my first contact with Apple was trough a retail store I had never become a customer.
 
Comment

teknikal90

macrumors 68040
Jan 28, 2008
3,126
1,422
Vancouver, BC
They have to do something. Apple stores are the most cold and boring places I have ever been to. All those ikea style tables make it look like a warehouse at best.
If my first contact with Apple was trough a retail store I had never become a customer.
maybe to you...... everything is cold and boring if youve been there 50,000 times...but i still think the apple store is still the best store out there...
what electronics store is better???
 
Comment

WaxedJacket

macrumors 6502a
Oct 18, 2013
580
816
it was easier when the teams had different shirts

I can't tell the difference between a genius, a manager, and a salesperson

who is supposed to help, why is everyone else standing around

why don't you know the answers to my stupid questions
This is so true. You walk in, find someone willing to make eye contact and then have to direct you to someone who directs you to someone who puts your name into their iPad. Not very efficient.
 
Comment

dejo

Moderator
Staff member
Sep 2, 2004
15,981
450
The Centennial State
Mod Note: This thread was closed temporarily to remove all the off-topic discussion of looks and gender. Now that it's reopened please remain on-topic. Otherwise, this thread may be closed again, perhaps permanently.
 
Comment

milo

macrumors 604
Sep 23, 2003
6,887
511
Why don't you stop insulting dead people? How disgusting.
I'm not insulting anyone. Jobs famously made it clear that he ignored what the public had to say, he didn't think it was useful. No focus groups. And his well known quote about people asking for a faster horse instead of asking for a car.

Among other things she talks about what people are sharing on social media, which seems pretty much the opposite of "jobs-esque".
 
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BrockC

macrumors regular
Jun 18, 2012
141
130
Il
I can't think of anyone else who would do the job better than her. I'm excited to see how well she does.
 
Comment

3282868

macrumors 603
Jan 8, 2009
5,281
0
order what you want online for pickup if you "know" what you "want"

it's stupid easy, otherwise you look like a tire kicker, just like every other punter in the store
True, yet pretty soon there will be little to no floor specialists, just "Geniuses" fixed iDevices, a "Pick-up" section and a store manager watching from the back office camera's. If a system I want isn't in stock, speaking with a specialist may help me better determine the "right" system that may be in stock and tailored to my needs. Otherwise, back of house may have a unloaded inventory.

I understand iPad's and iPhone's are their current bread and butter, yet once upon a time Apple specialists had to have experience in technology, "Geniuses" had two week training in Cupertino and had to have at least an associates. Now it's part time "Floor Specialists" and iDevice repairs. I left right after the iPhone launch, and noticed all too painfully how the staff switched from well trained and informed specialists to reps who didn't know the differences between OS X and Windows systems let alone HDD and SSD, RAM, etc. I would believe those to be crucial in selling computer systems.

Ahrendts is excellent in this position; a superior understanding in Industrial Organizational Psychology who has brought practicality and functionality by bridging technology with customer relations without eliminating the middle man. Improving Apple's retail experience is sorely needed, especially with better trained floor specialists. I loathe the idea that specialists are dispensable. Amazon CEO's idea of "drone's" for instant Prime customer deliveries made me nauseous. I don't need drone's replacing delivery men nor do I want neighborhood's with delivery drones also used to collect data in a joint venture with the government and Amazon, a hinted at compromise that may push this idea to market.
 
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vomhorizon

macrumors 6502a
Sep 24, 2013
952
68
Not sure if that was sarcasm but Steve didn't care what consumers want in a way and this was unique because he managed to create products that people never imagined! If you read his biography by Isaacson you will get the idea!
There are many levels to what consumers want...There are things you and I want in a particular product, changes perhaps then their are things that we would want if we knew what they were..A lot of times people are fairly good at recognizing needs or shortfalls in their tech or consumer product expereince but its tough for consumers to pin point a sollution..SJ was solid at finding what people would really like to have, getting apple to build it, then marketting it / showing people that this is what they really need ! IPOD , IPHONE and IPAD are perfect examples of giving the consumers the chance to expereince totally new form of technology (as an expereince (not nessesarily as hardware) ) and then convincing millions that this was infact what they really needed...Look at tablet sales post IPAD, others realized that people around the world really wanted TABLETS after they saw what apple did with the ipad...Steve was able to see the need for a tablet expereince (Again tabs may have existed earlier, but steve was able to provide an expereince that a heck of a lot of people wanted) and provide what the consumers desired long before others were able to zero in on it! In fact many top companies laughed at the IPAD only to realize later how it was essentially a market maker.

The IPHONE SIZE question and giving the consumers what they want, is something totally different...These are changes to existing products which apple obviously has to make the call on while factoring in the umpteen compromises that it faces..There may be 100 different parameters on which apple has to make a call going in for a product refresh every year, but they do not nessarily make a 100 changes..Apple has not yet shown willingness to do a major form factor change every year..It would satisfy a lot of customers and feel like apple listens to its customers..but what about the increase in the cost of device due to the change in process? What if apple jacks up the price? Then apple will look like its not listening to customers :)...For a company that makes essentially 1 phone each year, compromises are the name of the game...

Innovative, landmark technology companies are seldom run on customer democracy and feedback, they are run by employees, management and R&D departments that are filled with extremely smart visionaries with plenty of foresight..
 
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