Ever so often, Apple’s shiny new products find mention on these pages, but there’s a particular offering from the Cupertino giant that’s been curiously absent even as the brand marks 25 years of operations in India…or 15 years since it first started selling its iPhone in India. It’s no shiny gadget, though.
For all these years, Apple has relied primarily on third-party resellers to get its products physically in front of Indian consumers, a reliance that ended this week with the opening of the Apple BKC and Apple Saket store. We took the Mumbai and Delhi stores for a spin, and here are our first impressions.
The BKC Store in Mumbai is located in a prominent corner location within the upscale Jio World Drive mall, with a wraparound double-height glass wall that soars upwards of 25 feet to its rather unique triangular ceiling. The ceiling, which extends outwards past the glass wall like a sombrero and distinctly identifies the store, is made from 408 pieces of timber, forming 31 modules per tile with a total of 1,000 tiles that make up the ceiling. Each of the over 450,000 individual timber elements in the Mumbai store were assembled in Delhi, which joins the two stone walls that greet customers upon entering the store (sourced from Kota, Rajasthan) as the two local Indian elements to the store.
At one side of the store, a 14-meter long stainless steel staircase takes you up from the expansive ground level to the cantilevered mezzanine which houses the Genius Bar (for resolving queries and issues) and a host of accessories for Apple products. On the other, besides the indoor trees, is a large screen and seating for the informative Today at Apple sessions.
The rest of the store, from the wide pro-accessibility aisles (and elevator access to the upper level) to the neat rows of white oak tables all follow the signature pattern of minimalism and a visually striking display of the brand’s latest products. The thing that strikes you most about the store is that while it isn’t as much of a visual marvel as some stores in Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok, the airy, expansive space that the store has at its disposal (estimated to be over 20,000 sq ft), and the intelligent use of natural light to illuminate the space makes it stand out. This very much feels like a flagship store to lead Apple’s retail initiatives in India.
The Saket store in Delhi, on the other hand, feels a lot more like an Apple Store one would have seen inside many malls in the US, a significantly smaller-by-comparison (estimated to be over 8,000 sq ft) retail outlet that lines up alongside other stores in the popular Select Citywalk Mall.
Utilizing a curved storefront, the store features the familiar white oak tables and walls covered with accessories, audio products and Apple services (Arcade, Music)… except the one feature wall that’s made of locally sourced wood that adds an air of warmth to the store. The Today at Apple sessions are to be found alongside this wall, around smaller circular tables where experts can hold forth with customers on education around Apple products and services.
The smaller store size hasn’t meant compromises in terms of the product selection and, as with the BKC store, you can find each color variant of each product – iPhone, Mac, iPad, HomePod, AirPod Max – that you can touch and feel before purchase. The accessories on offer are without fault, and you can find an extensive selection of cables, adapters, watch straps, many of which are typically missing at the reseller stores.
However, I did notice that third-party accessories were yet to make their presence felt on the store shelves in BKC and Saket. Another thing that’s common to both stores – both run on 100% renewable energy and are carbon neutral, with the BKC store touting a dedicated solar array to ensure zero reliance on fossil fuels for store operations.
Walking around the stores, a couple of things strike you as particularly thoughtful and customer friendly. Want to plug in your device to charge and transfer data to your new purchase? Just wave alongside the cutouts on the wooden tables, and a motion-sensitive sensor detects your hand movement to bring up a block with charging and Ethernet ports – a similar wave dismisses the block back into the table.
There’s no billing counter to queue up at, either – the staff who are helping you with the product queries also carry around portable billing devices to accept your billing information, GST details, and your payment details before ringing up your purchase. We tried picking up multiple products at the BKC Stores and were able to pay by cash, UPI and card.
Apple also runs trade-in programs to exchange older devices towards store credit. Both stores also offer Apple Pickup, which allows customers to place orders online and pick up the exact product from the store at a time of their convenience. The staff are also equipped to speak multiple languages (20 in BKC and 15 in Saket) to assist a wide variety of customers, and we heard entire conversations happening in Marathi, Gujarati (BKC) and Punjabi and Hindi (Saket) in the time we were in the store.
When the news of the Apple Stores surfaced, many customers had hoped that this, coupled with local iPhone assembly, would reap benefits in terms of reduced (or closer to US dollar) pricing for some of the portfolio. That’s not going to be the case at these stores. Neither is it Apple’s intent globally to discount their products at their retail locations (beyond the trade-in programs), so deal seekers may still have to shop online or wait for seasonal offers.
Finally, a personal quibble: after having visited Apple Stores that have become architectural landmarks in their own cities globally – the one in Chicago or Bangkok, for example – one would have hoped for a more iconic location for the first set of stores in India – amidst the colonial architecture in south Mumbai or central Delhi, for example. It’s without a doubt that business considerations drove the choice of the current locations, but one can hope for future stores to come.
If there’s one thing that is evident so far, the actual sale of products takes a backseat, with the staff’s focus instead on customer experience within the store and the training and educational initiatives that stores can run to educate customers about Apple’s offerings and how to leverage their existing purchases more effectively.
The shift from a ‘pure sales’ model to a ‘inform and grow the market’ is refreshing to see, and one hopes it is sustained well into the future. Apple aims to match the same post-sale service experience as with any other store globally, so there’s that to look forward to as well.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets at @2Shar