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I'll take the MacBook, hold the macchiato: no coffee in Apple Stores, please


Esquire's Elizabeth Gunnison wrote a speculative piece about cafés in Apple Stores. In short, she thinks it's a great idea. In her piece she writes:

Think about it: Apple's retail stores are purpose-built for sucking people in and holding them hostage for hours, what with the rows and rows of shiny new devices, the Genius Bar, and their own roster of educational seminars. Why not add a café? Food and beverage margins are nothing compared to what Apple makes off its iPads and Macbooks, but a café would be just one more way of drawing shoppers toward the mothership and keeping them there.

Interestingly enough, Apple itself explored the idea of coffee-centric retail in the 1990s, and then dropped it. It's not hard to understand why: the concept is clever, but it wouldn't work. Apple Stores are sleek and sexy and...noisy. When I go to a café, I want free Wi-Fi, sure, but I also want to hear myself think. Even the most crowded Starbucks in London offers at least one corner that's relatively quiet. And that's because sales people aren't constantly pitching the latest product while customers ask question after question.

Apple Stores are sleek, sexy and sterile. Café's are usually the exact opposite. I want the place where I buy my tech to look like a spaceship. I want the place where I buy my coffee and read the paper to be comfy and cozy, not blindingly white.

If Apple were to add cafés to its retail stores it would require a big redesign. Sure, it could work in some of the bigger stores in London, New York, and Paris if Apple added a dedicated café -- one that looked like a café, and not a stand that some bored employee set up with his Nespresso machine. But smaller stores, like the one in Northbrook, Illinois, can't gut half of their retail space to sell coffee.

As for the idea of cafés as a customer draw...Apple hardly needs that gimmick. It's having no trouble attracting retail customers. In fact, some people just hang out there, despite the lack of coffee. The last thing Apple Stores need are hipster geeks who aren't buying anything sticking around even longer checking their Facebook messages on a 27" iMac while they wait for another refill of their macchiato.

Let Apple sell computers; Starbucks can worry about the coffee.

[photo adapted from work by Roger Price]

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