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A Is For Commerce

If you want a peek at what’s to come at Apple with the addition of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts as its new SVP of retail and online, look no farther than a quote taken from her interview with The Wall Street Journal … on September 9, 2010.

“If I look to any company as a model, it’s Apple. They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle.”

My take away from these 21 words from the 8,000 or so words in the article (which was published in the WSJ Magazine): Ms. Ahrendts wasn’t pried out of being CEO of Burberry with an annual salary north of £20M to take a SVP position at Apple to decide the next color of the next Apple iPhone.

As you have no doubt read by now, Ahrendts was a bit of an outlier in the fashion world, even though that is where she has spent her entire career. She’s a small town Indiana girl from modest roots who found success by doing one thing really well – connecting with the consumer and cracking the code on how to secure their loyalty.

Part of her success over the years, is, of course, being a savvy retailer. During her tenure, Burberry more than tripled the number of standalone stores and did a number of things to stem the brand dilution that licensing the brand had done over the years prior to her arrival. Since she became CEO, sales rose from £743m in 2005 – the year she took over – to £2bn in 2012, and the stock price performed well, too. Shares over that same period just about increased fourfold.

A big part of why she’s such a savvy retailer is her ability to recognize early on, much earlier in fact than any of her luxury brand brethren, the power of using digital channels to connect with consumers and build a relationship with them. She embraced digital, some might say, before there was a there-there.

At Burberry, it was Ahrendts that dove into the deep end with Facebook in 2009, breaking ranks with every other luxury brand that thought Facebook was no-man’s land. Four years and nearly 17 million fans later, Burberry has pushed Facebook and all of its digital platforms to the max – runway shows are broadcast in real time on the internet, eCommerce can actually happen on its site (try that on a lot of other luxury brand sites, even today in 2013), and sales associates in its retail stores with iPads keep tabs on customers and assist in the buying process. The result is a diverse and tremendously loyal consumer base that has both extended and popularized the Burberry lifestyle beyond its staid trench and Burberry-checked roots.

The official announcement of Ahrendt’s appointment today that she is taking on a new position as head of retail and online was, I’m sure, purposefully, vague. Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, we won’t know what this really means until we see it, but here’s my two cents.

This, more than anything that Apple has done to date, sends a very strong signal that Apple is going to get into commerce – and payments – but like it does everything else, the Apple way. Apple is a lifestyle brand that, without sounding melodramatic, has changed the lifestyle of just about everyone who has ever touched an Apple product – from the Mac to the iPod to the iPhone to Apple TV. It has done it by creating an environment – an ecosystem – where consumers can decide what they want to download and consume wherever and whenever they wish. And, where entrepreneurs are inspired to create new applications for consumers to use with those devices – so that more consumers are motivated to buy more devices and stay loyal.  Where new technologies are born, like iBeacon, that leverage consumers with those devices and the operating systems that connect them, to transform the retail environment by enabling communication between iOS enabled devices to drive commerce and, of course, payments.

So, then, who better than Ahrendts to help Apple connect all of these dots – using her keen insights about the consumer’s lifestyle as her, no pun intended, beacon to transform the retail experience for consumers and merchants?

This could get really interesting.

I’m sure that there will be any number of things on Ahrendt’s to-do list when she arrives in Cupertino mid-next year. My bet is that she’ll focus her energies on figuring out how to insert a range of compelling commerce and payments experiences into the patterns and lifestyle choices that people keep every day – without being intrusive but simply keeping pace with how consumers are increasingly blurring the on and offline worlds thanks to the iPhones and iPads (and who knows what else tomorrow) that consumers now consider an essential part of their daily lives. So, not just serving offers within striking distance of a store or even a product in an aisle, but actioning and monetizing lifestyle patterns in real time – which products at which stores in what sequence on what days with whom at what time of the year – and in what medium – online or offline – and why.

It may be that Apple’s ecosystem and its common (and unfragmented) operating platform that connects their devices gives Ahrendts the critical assets she needs to understand how consumers move fluidly between the on and offline worlds – and more importantly how to capitalize on and monetize those lifestyle patterns. If she pulls that off – any takers on whether she could do for the Apple stock price what she did for Burberry’s?

Oh, and by the way, these are the sorts of insights and conversations we’ll address in our Mobile Commerce Insider Series starting next month. Every day there seems to be more and more to talk about using mobile to blend the online and offline worlds. And, it won’t just be me you’ll hear from, but the best in the industry. For more scoop on how to get on the Inside, click here!

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