Steve Jobs unveils Apple mini stores

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At a private viewing at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif., Apple Computer Inc. on Thursday unveiled a new 750-square-foot "mini" design for its retail store. The first six stores using the design, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs -- in his first public appearance since cancer surgery -- described as "designed to be small, and cool because [they] are small," will open this Saturday.

The six stores opening this Saturday at 10 a.m. are in Palo Alto; San Jose, Calif.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; Tukwila, Wash.; Bridgewater, New Jersey; and Rockaway, New Jersey. Three additional mini stores are due to open by the end of 2004 in Bethesda, Maryland; Syracuse, New York; and St. Louis, Missouri.

The new stores feature a striking new design inside the small space, which is roughly half the size of Apple's smallest and most common retail outlets. The ceiling is an unbroken expanse of white, lit from behind; the walls are Japanese-made stainless steel (with Power Mac G5-style holes around the top of the walls for ventilation purposes); and the floor is a shiny white made, according to Jobs, of "material used in aircraft hangars."

Products in the new stores are half iPod related, half Mac related, according to Jobs. "That's new for us, and we hope to draw iPod customers into the store," he said. Both Jobs and Apple Senior Vice President of Retail Ron Johnson said they hoped the new store's hip design would draw a younger, hipper customer.

"This design will help us carry our philosophy to even more people," Jobs said as the store was unveiled.

The mini retail stores will give Apple the opportunity to locate in places that, until now, have been too small to fit a tradition retail location. Apple now has four designs for its retail locations: The two-story Flagship stores with glass staircase; stores with theaters; smaller size stores with no theatre; and the mini stores. Johnson said that the new store size will allow Apple to serve both smaller markets that currently have no Apple retail presence, as well as high-traffic areas that are somewhat close to established Apple stores.

For example, the Stanford Shopping Center store is only about a mile from Apple's large Palo Alto store, but Johnson said that the large amount of shoppers at Stanford made adding an Apple presence there make sense. The store will be connected to nearby Apple outlets via an Internet-based voice messaging system, so that customers who can't find a product at the smaller store can be directed to that product if it's in stock at a nearby store.

Johnson also pointed out that the new store design was the same size as reail outlets in airports, and suggested that airport-based Apple retail outlets could be convenient for travelers wishing to buy iPods and other accessories.

With the exception of four stools at a small Genius Bar at the back of the store, the entire floor of the new store is empty. On a single row of counters to the left of the entrance are a series of iPod stations, showcasing each iPod product with selected accessories. On the right side, a similar countertop features iBooks, PowerBooks, and the iMac G5 with selected accessories. (eMacs and Power Mac G5s were not present.) The back half of the store offers six tall rows of shelves on each side; the left side is stocked with accessories, while the right contains software and books.

Most uniquely, between the front and back sections of the store are two touch-screen-based kiosks, embedded in the walls, that allow customers to scan the bar codes of the products they wish to buy. Once they scan a product, an image of it will appear on the screen. Customers will then insert a credit card to pay for them, and walk out of the store, all without interacting with a clerk.

Johnson said that currently 80 percent of Apple's retail customers pay for products with a credit card. He also said that, at first, one kiosk at mini stores will be for "assisted check-out" with the help of an Apple employee; the other kiosk will be devoted to self-serve check-out. After that, the stores will adapt based on how customers embrace the self-check-out system.

This story, "Steve Jobs unveils Apple mini stores" was originally published by PCWorld.

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