The Apple Store: When POS Becomes Pop Culture

Over the weekend, a new Apple Store debuted near my home in Bergen County, New Jersey. When I received a random invite for a press preview an hour before the official Grand Opening, I couldn&'t resist the chance to peek at this pristine retail space before the crowds descended. What I saw provides not only a primer in POS practices but a lesson in pop culture.

When I arrived at the Garden State Plaza (GSP) in Paramus at 8:45 a.m. Feb. 4, it didn&'t take me all that long to find the right place -- a line of close to 30 people had formed in anticipation of the 10 a.m. opening. Three security guards studied them with ill-concealed disbelief and were amazed a press person had shown up, to boot.

With more than two-million-square feet of retail space, GSP is a sprawling facility that attracts 19 million customers annually and is murder on the local automobile traffic, especially since it&'s closed on Sundays. It&'s the sort of space where stroller jams along the corridors are common and bands of teenagers roam with cell phones in hand. On this gray Saturday, most of the people in line for the Apple Store were just that -- families or teens, several of whom were sporting Apple apparel, although there was one couple in their mid-60s holding hands in the queue. Several whiled the time listening to their highly visible iPods, three were crouched, banging away on PowerBooks. With the exception of one person, they all owned Apple gear. (Indeed, they were astonished this silly reporter would even ask such a rhetorical question.)

I could feel their eyes boring into my back as I was escorted inside early, where the regional Apple Market Manager Paul Felcher gave me a quick rundown on the new space. Of the four stores in New Jersey, the new GSP site is the only one to boast The Studio, staffed by creative sorts who provide design tips related to photography, movie making or music. Felcher had assembled 40 or so staffers to help with the opening, pulling them in from the three other nearby stores he manages in Bridgewater, Short Hills and Tices Corner. Most were young men, but I don&'t know what the regular staff will look like. By the way, did you know it&'s tougher to score a job with Apple (in any capacity) than it is to get into Stanford University? Felcher, a former Brookstone employee who has been with Apple about five years, said only 1 percent of those who apply wind up with an Apple badge.

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Unlike the nearest site in Tices Corner, which Felcher describes as a desination location (i.e., you go there for a specific reason and not to hang out), he sees the new facility as a place to showcase Apple products to PC users. Indeed, when I returned later in the day, there was considerable buzz around the highly anticipated MacBook Pro, the first of the Intel dual-core notebooks, due this month and already the subject of backorders. Still, many of the several thousand invites that went out to tout the opening went to current Apple customers or those who opted-in to the Apple Store e-mail newsletter, causing me to wonder just who Apple is trying to convert. (By the way, there&'s even a blog devoted to Apple Store openings and news.) Just before dinner, the store was mobbed, with the wait at some demo stations three people deep. As I climbed my way toward the exit, I couldn&'t help noticing that it was impossible to get any attention from the help. Perhaps that's one reason why some browsers come back time and again before they actually open their wallets in an Apple Store.

“We find that it takes at least three visits to a store to make a purchase. We&'re really mindful of that,” Felcher said.

By the way, all the demo gear on the floor is rotated through the stock and is reburbished for resale after it has served its sentence. Considering all the eager touching and feeling going on in the new store last Saturday, someone could find themselves with a very well-worn piece of technology.