On the 15th anniversary of Apple’s first store opening, retailers today could learn from the tech giant’s gamble on innovation.

Fifteen years ago today, Steve Jobs launched the mould-breaking Apple stores and created a retail model which has generated more revenue per square foot than any other retailer. He was driven to this because he was tired of having his products placed at the back of the store.

On this anniversary, there are still too many retail stores where the most exciting new technology ecosystem to emerge in a generation, the smart home, is tucked away in the back aisle or even omitted from the sales offering altogether.

The good news is that we are seeing a new type of experiential retail store emerge where connected objects are front of stage.

Fnac, the France-based retailer, has launched a format dedicated to smart and connected products. Half of Maplin’s sales area is dedicated to Connected Home, while John Lewis has this year invested in a smart home experiential area in its flagship Oxford Street store.

Smart investment

But the smart home retail sector is still lacking the Apple magic – which, by the way, is nowhere to be found in Apple stores, where its ‘Homekit’ offering is isolated in a quiet corner somewhere.

Retailers need a new approach if the smart home market is to realise its potential.

Courage is needed to bring the goods to the front of the store and provoke people’s curiosity. The ROI is not there today, but the winner will be an innovator who takes a longer term view of this market.

Understanding consumers is vital – our research shows shoppers are prepared to spend £150 on one product in 2016.

There are plenty of products to fill the shelves which sit below the £150 threshold – smart plugs, connected lightbulbs, baby monitors, or one of the most recent arrivals: a smart door lock.


Finally, retailers must educate consumers – the biggest barrier to smart home adoption. Our research has found that 65% of consumers worry about their home when they are away from it, but only 10% have heard of an IP camera or a smart door lock.

Imagine if via quality marketing, retailers were able to link these two and sell a solution to a real consumer need?

If there’s one courageous retailer following Apple’s philosophy in the smart home world, it is Lick in France.

Its 17 Paris stores are dedicated to connected objects. They feature well-trained salespeople – called “coaches” – including ex-Apple employees, who engage and explain how those products work and can bring benefits with customers.

The retail space is used also to showcase tech start-ups, part of the booming French tech sector.

Steve Jobs loved France and used Paris as the base to launch a number of his products.

Currently, the French lead the way in terms of applying successful tactics from the Apple Store successes to crack a smart home market still very much up for grabs.

  • Adam Simon is the global managing director of retail at Context