OLD Media Moves

Apple turns to fashion world for retail executive

October 16, 2013

Posted by Liz Hester

After nearly a year of searching, Apple hired the CEO of Burberry to run its retail and online stores. Angela Ahrendts will be the highest-ranking woman at Apple.

USA Today had this story:

Apple is dipping back into the fashion world for its latest hire, plucking the CEO of luxury brand Burberry to manage its retail and online presence.

The company announced Tuesday that Angela Ahrendts will join the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant as senior vice president of its retail and online stores. Ahrendts will manage the direction and expansion of its stores when she takes over in the spring.

“I have always admired the innovation and impact Apple products and services have on people’s lives, and hope in some small way I can help contribute to the company’s continued success and leadership in changing the world,” said Ahrendts in a statement.

Ahrendts, 53, served as president of Donna Karan International and executive vice president at Liz Claiborne prior to taking over as CEO for Burberry in 2006.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the once innovative Apple stores are in need of revamping as same store sales are falling:

In an intriguing marriage of fashion and technology, she will arrive as Apple seeks to rev up a brand whose devices have become ubiquitous and whose stores have lost some of their initial novelty. Apple has aggressively opened more stores as competitors have mimicked the format of its brightly lit spaces. Rivals such as Samsung Electronics Co. have stolen some of Apple’s flair with distinctive products and glitzy marketing. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3, an oversize smartphone announced last month, includes a stitched-leather look on its back.

Sales at Apple stores fell in the three months ended June 30 compared with the prior year for the first time since 2009, according to Apple financial disclosures. Apple doesn’t report specific same-store sales figures. For the nine months ended June 30, sales per square foot in Apple’s stores fell 4.5%, according to Customer Growth Partners.

The New York Times chose to focus on the online stores and the work that she’ll need to do there to update an experience that hasn’t changed much recently:

Apple’s over 400 retail stores have been instrumental to the company’s success. With a minimalist design and destination sites in far-flung places like Shanghai and Rome, the stores have become both a retail and marketing channel for the company.

In the last few years, Apple has added many upgrades to make its stores more high-tech, like the ability to pay for a product with an iPhone. But its online store has not changed much — Apple usually brings the store offline temporarily whenever it adds new products, an approach that seems dated.

Ms. Ahrendts will probably be expected to make shopping online and in stores more seamless, and help make the customer service experience similar whether consumers are walking in or logging on to an Apple store.

She will bring with her a deep knowledge of retailing. Under her watch, Burberry put technology in the forefront of its brand strategy. The company established a strong presence on Facebook and other social media and built a unified experience for its online marketplace and store.

People in the fashion industry credit Ms. Ahrendts with expanding Burberry into an international fashion brand while maintaining its heritage, and said Apple could use some of that magic.

NPR pointed out that Ahrendts plans to focus on customer service and she has experience in China, a target growth area for the company:

In a statement accompanying a news release, Ahrendts said she would work to improve customer service at the company’s stores. Browett had taken criticism for moving to cut staffing costs at Apple’s storefront operations.

Ahrendts “also has experience expanding into China — where Burberry now has more than 70 stores in the country against Apple’s eight,” reports Britain’s Telegraph. “Slow growth in Apple’s Chinese retail operations was pinned as another reason for Mr Browett’s departure.”

This summer, Ahrendts made headlines when it was revealed that she earned more than $26 million — far more than any other top executive at Britain’s largest companies. A large part of the payout, as The Daily Mail reported, came from selling accrued shares of Burberry’s stock.

The move could mark a shift in strategy, the New York Times said. After introducing lower priced phones this year, hiring a luxury retailer to run the stores could mean that Apple is planning to move to higher-end goods. It will be interesting to see how she chooses to redesign and reposition Apple’s stores – both retail and online.

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