Ross Mayfield notes that in an Apple retails store "50% of the space is for retail sales and 50% for service and support." He goes on to contrast that with places like Fry's or Best Buy. I'm always amazed when I go into an Apple store: they're happening places. If you're in retail, visit an Apple store and then go back to your place. Seem kinda quiet and dead. Yeah, I thought so.
Ross goes on:
What Best Buy is missing is the fact that they provide no after market value add with their retail -- in comparison to buying and servicing with an e-commerce vendor. If I buy something in person I expect a person to be able to help me when things go wrong. At least during the manufactures warranty, and I might pay to extend that period with the retailer.
But I think Apple gets something more than the value of customer experience. According to the Consortium of Service Innovation, there is an iceberg effect for product knowledge. 90% of conversations about supporting products never touch the company. Only 10% touch the call center. And 1% of this service and product quality knowledge are assimilated.
In other words, Apple's trying to capture more of the product knowledge conversations. That goes beyond mere "customer experience" and gets to building relationship.
Finally Ross gets to the key question for online retailers:
For your business online, what porportion is dedicated to retail vs. support? When not constricted by the boundaries of physical space, and can be empowered through community, where do you draw that line? What crosses that line is a process not unlike osmosis, where energy is released with the right balance.
When I was at Internet Retailer it was clear that one of the hot features for ecommerce Web sites was customer reviews. More and more places are following Amazon's lead and adding places for customers to talk to other customers (and inform the retailer in the process). This is a great way to capture more of the customer product conversation and capitalize on it in order to keep shoppers coming back for more.