Apple opens buzzworthy Chicago flagship
Apple on Thursday unveiled a new location on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, calling it its "newest and most ambitious store" and the "first in a new generation of the most significant worldwide retail locations." Apple worked closely with the City of Chicago and referenced historical records for the design, according to a company press release.
In the heart of the city’s shopping district and overlooking the Chicago River, the store opened on Friday and features curved glass walls, four columns, bleacher-like granite steps down to the riverfront and a 111-by-98 foot, thin-as-possible carbon-fiber roof. "Apple Michigan Avenue is about removing boundaries between inside and outside, reviving important urban connections within the city," said Apple chief design officer Jony Ive said in a statement. "It unites a historic city plaza that had been cut off from the water, giving Chicago a dynamic new arena that flows effortlessly down to the river."
The opening comes about a month after Apple released several new devices and feature announcements and said that its iconic glass box retail outlet in New York City will be remodeled, along with other new locations planned for Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.
Despite surges in e-commerce sales, physical retail maintains primacy when it comes to shopping, and several retailers are revamping stores to lure in customers. Even mass merchants like Walmart and Target are remodeling locations to make it easier and more pleasant to shop, with Target earlier this year saying it would dedicate $2 billion of capital in 2017 and more than $7 billion over the next three years to that effort. The company is using about $1 billion of operating profits this year to improve brick-and-mortar and digital operations.
That revamp is going so well for Target that the company last week said it has decided to remodel 325 more than originally planned — for a total of 1,000 of its 1,800 stores. Its latest new store is in New York City’s Herald Square, home to Macy’s sprawling century-old flagship.
But few can compare to Apple, whose stores include the precise attention to design that is also a feature of its products. Apple is positioning these locations to be gathering places as much as retail stores, and Chicago has held pride of place as home for Apple show pieces for nearly 15 years.
"When Apple opened on North Michigan Avenue in 2003, it was our first flagship store, and now we are back in Chicago opening the first in a new generation of Apple’s most significant worldwide retail locations," Apple senior vice president of Retail Angela Ahrendts said in a statement. "Apple Michigan Avenue exemplifies our new vision where everyone is welcome to experience all of our incredible products, services and inspiring educational programs in the heart of their city."
The company is going so deep with this strategy that it doesn’t even want us referring to Apple stores as "stores" anymore, and has been gradually removing the word "store" from its retail location branding since last summer.
Upon arriving at Apple from Burberry, Ahrendts' first order of business was to pump up its online retail operations. But from the beginning there’s been no question that her longtime experience at fashion house Burberry gives her a luxe aesthetic. In some ways, her approach is an intensifying of Apple’s already more upscale attitude.
Almost immediately she had her teams clean up stores, dropping many peripheral items that don’t pass muster, seeking unique packaging from companies selling items in Apple stores, and finding ways to streamline customer service. New Apple stores being designed and built worldwide may be positioned to appeal to customers who can afford to pay for design and performance.
At least 95 stores were redesigned last year, and the project hasn't slowed down in 2017. It's a worldwide effort, with stores planned for India and a recent new store opening in Dubai, although Apple seems just as busy and focused on the U.S.
How much this effort translates into dollars spent at Apple stores remains to be seen. At some point, the stores also need to be effective showrooms for Apple products, and professionally-managed environments where Apple users in need of serious tech help can get it. The new and revamped stores are so big, however, that they may have room for Apple to fulfill all of these requirements.
Follow Daphne Howland on Twitter