Apple keeps on giving lessons in retail

Nordtsrom is a business with legendary customer support

If you shop in the U.S., you’re likely familiar with the Nordstrom brand. It’s not just another department store: It’s a business with legendary customer support.

Nordstrom is noted for taking returns on everything they’ve sold for any reason. There’s even a great urban legend that a customer once returned a set of snow tires to Nordstrom, which is of course an item that the store doesn’t sell.

(I once had the opportunity to ask a member of the Nordstrom family if the story was true. After a moment’s thought, he said, “I won’t answer that question, but I will tell you no one is telling that story about Macy’s.”)

That’s why I found it amusing that Nordstrom is taking a page from the Apple retail playbook and rolling out a series of iPod touch-based checkout devices to their retail stores. I’ve called Apple the Nordstrom of technology in the past, but now it seems the student has become the master.

People often point to the Apple Store as a core reason of Apple’s success. (Though let’s keep in mind that when Apple opened its first stores, some retail analysts suggested the effort would fail within 18 months.) But there’s a lot more to the Apple retail experience than polished wood, bright lights and great glass staircases. Here’s an exercise for those of you in retail: Go build a store with a 45-foot glass wall and ceiling and a great glass staircase and see if you sell more products as a result.

Consumers don’t really care about technology. They care what technology enables for them. Whether it’s communication, collaboration, media, or productivity those are the things that matter. What consumers also care a great deal about is the experience they have to go through in order to purchase those enablers. Whether it’s a phone or PC or car or house, it’s all about the buying experience. (And often the more expensive the purchase, the harder the experience is. Ever buy a car or a house? How was that experience for you?)

More and more I hear anecdotal stories of Apple’s customer service, and how an experience went from being frustrating to heroic. These become tales at cocktail parties and dinner gatherings. The net result: The type of experiential marketing that simply can’t be bought, only earned.

What’s more interesting is that these tales aren’t coming from Apple enthusiasts (although many have since become enthusiasts to the core, if you’ll excuse the expression) but from regular consumers who have simply had a positive experience dealing with the company.

Apple has made the technology-buying experience something that is among the best consumer retail experiences around. I expect this trend will only continue. Now that Nordstrom has adopted the Apple experience, how long do you think it will take others to begin to adopt such technology as well?

Apple’s retail experience is one major reason why Apple has become a force in the industry, and how Apple runs that retail experience explains its success at attracting new users who in the past would never have engaged with the Apple brand.

No, they’re not telling that snow-tire story about Macy’s. And they’re not telling stories of heroic retail customer service about Dell, Sony or Microsoft, either. Sure, some of the stories may end up being embellished a bit in the telling. But there’s an important nugget of truth at the center of those tales: Apple has taken the formerly horrid experience of buying high-tech gear in a retail environment to new levels, and has reaped the reward of vastly increased mindshare. And in the end, it’s mindshare that leads to market share.

Michael Gartenberg is an analyst and long-time Mac user who covers the world of the interconnected consumer for Gartner. The opinions expressed are his own.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags smartphonesApplePhonesconsumer electronicsNordstrom

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Gartenberg
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?