Just got back from a quick field trip to London's new Nokia Flagship store and the Apple store.
Set myself a research-y task for each store, to help ascertain just how good the customer experience was.
First impressions at Nokia were interesting - I was actually 'greeted' by a burly security guy. Well that felt weird. The store was pretty empty (about 19.00hrs) and it all felt a bit 'obvious' - no delightful surprises. Many of the physical details mimicked the Apple store, except in the overall dimensions - deep and thin compared to Apple's deep and wide. Plus of course the product is so much smaller and Nokia had transposed mostly stills photography at Apple for moving images on plasmas. And I was never going to buy a phone from the Nokia Flagship even if I could, this was primarily about product research.
Staff were pretty friendly (but hey the store's only a few weeks 'old') but it seemed to follow the Apple formula; knowledgeable 'fans' as staff, a few key functional areas and generally 'trying to be groovy' interiors which in so many respects aped Apple's interior strategy and fit-out. It must be said that overall there had been little attempt to break away from this established Apple archetype - shame.
My task to seek a logical upgrade to my SE K800i failed to yield an obvious successor. Sales assistants were moderately knowledgeable / helpful but I did at times feel as though I was being forced down a scripted tunnel.
A short dash (they're pretty much opposite each other on Regent Street), and straight into the hustle bustle of the Apple store. In contrast to the (very new) Nokia Flagship, Apple was still rammed with customers. I must have spent 20 minutes wandering around as staffers were too busy to greet me or ask if I needed help - in fact you need to just as lucky to grab one as find a machine that's not being played with. But that's all OK.
The whole Apple store feels 'just right' - someone carefully selected this space for it's proportions and ability to cater for sheer numbers.
My trip was intentional - a purchase pre-planned but needed confirmation - and at the till what struck me was how readily the staffer dropped what he was doing to talk me through the product over on display.
He had a script - or more accurately a guide but would happily detour from it depending on my responses - and that made me feel in control.
The interaction felt like one between friends or colleagues - not one between a customer and retailer.
Forming a relationship - we traded personal experiences, I found out he studies at the college I attended. (interesting that - fan and user first, retailer second)
I bought an accessory - actually something I needed, nicely explained for a change. One happy, valued customer.
Apple still wins convincingly. Why? The experience was far more pleasant, engaging and rewarding - the service very customer-centric, the space perfect. You feel as if you're at once front and back stage.
And in addition, (and this is just as important) the products too were probably easier to sell in Apple compared to Nokia. Apple has a (perceptively) tighter product range, easier to differentiate and each with real tangible benefits. Nokia's product range is far broader; differences and benefits harder to discern, which made it confusing.
Product and service, people and environment all in harmony.