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Apple’s brick-and-mortar (or glass and wood) strategy holds lessons for online retailers

So, in reading about Carmine Gallo and his analysis of the genius (if you will) of the Apple Store, I couldn’t help but notice that the secrets of success for the iconic gadget store are not that different from the strategies that digital retailers should embrace as they shoot for the same sort of success that Apple has scored.

“The Apple experience,” Gallo tells the San Jose Mercury News, “above all, is about enriching lives.”

OK, it’s the kind of marketing-speak that can induce eye-rolling. (Reminiscent, even, of the running gag on HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”) But Gallo, author of “The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Experience,” has a bigger point: The most effective selling doesn’t look or feel like selling. The most effective selling results from building an experience; an experience that’s memorable because it’s pleasant, fulfilling, efficient, useful or relevant — or maybe all of those things.

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The message from Apple to its store associates, Gallo tells the Mercury, is: “Stop selling stuff and start enriching people’s lives. And when you do that, the experience is much different than you get anywhere else.”

Sounds like a key take-away. (One other key moment in the Merc report that I can’t resist mentioning: Look for the part where Gallo and reporter Patrick May are booted from the Apple Store because interviews aren’t allowed there, even between two consenting adults, neither of whom work at the store. Decidedly un-enriching.)

The online corollary to Apple’s in-store strategy can be seen in all the talk about moving away from counting clicks and the “click Web” in favor of a moving toward engaging consumers and  the “attention Web.” They are concepts that DebShops’ David Cost talked about last winter and that Charbeat’s Tony Haile created some buzz around this spring when he wrote about the attention Web.

Michael Maoz, a Gartner analyst, said in May that retailers, both online and in-store, should be giving customers a “concierge” experience. Consumers are providing retailers with more information about their needs, desires and intent than they ever have before. In return, they expect retailers to help them find the product or service that solves the problem they need solved when they need it solved.

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“We’re going to help you with your customer journey,” Maoz says is the message retailers need to be sending. “We’re going to help you move from one thing to another; help you do something you didn’t know you needed to do, but I did, looking at big data, for example.”

It sounds a lot like what Gallo is talking about in the Merc Q &A when he breaks down the playbook that every Apple store employee learns. Apple associates are are taught to take a personalized approach, greeting customers and connecting over, say, a sports team whose logo the customer is wearing. They are to politely probe, “to understand the customer’s needs.” Then of course, they are to provide a solution, preferably a solution the customer can buy on the spot.

Creating a personalized experience, understanding a consumer’s intent and being able to offer relevant recommendations? It sounds like a winning combination — whether you are selling goods in a sleek brick-and-mortar store (or in the case of Apple, wood and glass store) or on a top-flight e-commerce platform.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.