Okay, let’s start here by outlining the supermarket as the ultimate postmodern shopping experience. A dizzying and purposefully confusing arrangement of choice, designed to distance ourselves from the physical reality of the products we wish to purchase. Which instead encourages us to facilitate our interaction with the world through recognisable branding, as brand awareness is easier to control in the mind of a customer and easier to be used to manipulate purchasing decisions.
In their paper Supermarkets as Libraries of Postmodern Mythology, researchers Maria Kniazeva and Russell W. Belk put forward the idea that branding is intended to create its own micro mythology. In making a purchase one is essentially aligning themselves with the story that the business is trying to create. Nothing could be more Apple, look at everything that brand has come to mean, the extraordinary expense expended in making that story a good one.
However, a supermarket, as a postmodern construct is defined by its transience, its disassociation from the brands that line it shelves. The supermarket is an almost polytheistic creation, which discourages by its very nature the acceptance of a singular identity in favour of the adoption of the many. In doing so it devalues the role of the shopper, who finds their basket laden with so many brands that the cumulative weight of all their meaning becomes irrelevant.
The Apple Store immediately sets itself apart by decentring the role of the product. They have neither shelves which house produce nor physical tills at which one checks out. When one enters the Apple Store the brand defines itself not by product but by the information the space holds. Now, I cannot speak for the layout of all Apple Stores, but all will have a long desk, the Genius Bar, against one of the walls attended by staff. In order to access this one has to book an appointment. Already we see that division of access, there is information available at that desk which one cannot access upon entering the store.
At the next level staff wonder the floor. They act as free floating information nodes available to the public. Now again, there are barriers to entry, there are fewer of these staff members than there are customers at most points and so one may have to wait for access. Also they are often is plain clothes which serve to make them non-obvious to those just entering.
This is to have the customer first interact with the most prevalent information nodes on the floor. The demonstration models of the various items available for sale. These are clearly positioned not as products but as demonstration materials. Robbed of their core function and purpose in the life of the end user, they become not the product they advertise, but physical representations of the concept of the iPhone, iPad, iMac and so on.
Therefore the primary commodity that the Apple Store is engaged in the sale of is not that of physical produce, but instead of the information that the Apple brand is in possession of. This recentres the role of the consumer in the purchasing experience as, in order to interact with the brand, they must take steps, deliberately designed into the experience, to increase their access to information and, in doing so, more closely align themselves with the brand.
Because, as was outlined in the original article, information does not have to align to traditional notions of the factual. Indeed, our interactions in the Apple store are incredibly likely to be distanced from fact, however as physical produce is held hostage behind the information the customer has no choice but to engage with the information provided. The information that will inevitably favour the brand, within the Apple Store it is the truth. This distinguishes it from the postmodern shopping experience. The Apple Store is designed to impart truth, a distinct difference from the supermarket that aims to remove the concept of truth from the purchasing experience.
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