January 31, 2014 3:03 pm
Updated: January 31, 2014 5:01 pm

Apple’s next big move

Ahrendts, who will become a senior vice-president at Apple this spring, is credited with helping transform Burberry from an established if stodgy brand known for its iconic trench coats to one of the fashion world's leading companies.

Samir Hussein/Getty Images for International Herald Tribune

I read with great interest the recent hiring of Angela Ahrendts by Apple. Ahrendts is the former CEO of British luxury brand Burberry. She, along with lead designer Christopher Bailey, was instrumental in turning the old, stodgy company with declining sales into a fashion icon. The duo tripled the company’s earnings and turned the brand into a global success story.

Knowing Ahrendts’s strengths, I believe you can tell a lot about a company’s direction by the people they hire. The official announcement indicated Ahrendts joined Apple to revitalize its retail stores, which represent $20 billion in sales. Store sales have lost some of its luster and the actual concept created by Steve Jobs is now close to ten years old. The question is: what direction will Ahrendts take the chain? More importantly, what influence will she have on the style and direction of its products?

An important clue maybe the fact that Ahrendts is one of very few female senior executives at Apple and she brings with her a strong sense of the importance of luxury brands and leading edge fashion. With more and more power shifting to the more discerning tastes of women, a significant move away from the geek culture that founded Apple may broaden the appeal of its core products beyond men. In addition, Apple’s consumer demographic is shifting away from its traditional younger segment to older baby boomers, which may indicate the company needs to regain its hip image if it wants to remain relevant to younger consumers who tend to be hungrier for the newest gadget.

The move by major competitors to wearable wireless technology is another clue on the value Ahrendts will bring to Apple. From watches to glasses, technology has evolved beyond hand-held devices and techy-looking designs. As technology moves into the realm of wearable fashion, hiring Ahrendts may prove to be Apple’s smartest move.

If I were to speculate on where Ahrendts will take the Apple brand, the following initiatives are more likely to occur if we look at both Apple’s culture and Ahrendts’s past experience:

• Retail stores will be segmented by lifestyles, moving away from a homogeneous and neutral environment to one that celebrates how Apple can enhance your daily life. The store will remain extremely contemporary and minimalist, a cornerstone of the Apple brand, and will provide a greater diversification of products, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat.

• The store designs will infuse more fashion statements, especially as you consider the breadth of accessories available to enhance your Apple technology. Currently these items take second place to Apple’s technology, while representing a significant opportunity to drive repeat visits and purchases by customers.

• Most of the major changes will first occur in the form of new stores as it averages 35 new locations each year, in addition to extending the concept to some of its larger, iconic flagship stores in major urban settings.

• The stores will be much more interactive through the evolution of its iBeacon geofencing technology, providing visitors with an immersive experience.

• The trend by Apple to offer different colours for its phones and products will accelerate as more and more consumers want to personalize their phones. I would not be surprised if the reverse side of Apple smartphones features customizable digital screens that can convert phones into matching fashion apparel. Perhaps a new section in iTunes will allow you to download leading fashion patterns and styles to enhance the back panel of your phone.

• And yes, we will start seeing Apple enter into the wearable wireless fashion realm to allow its brand to remain relevant and hip to the younger generation.

Ultimately, Adhrendts will bring a new sense of energy and vitality to Apple and I await with great anxiety what her experience and talents will bring to my favourite brand.

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