Image Credit: Gulf News

When the UAE’s first Apple stores open on October 29, customers will get the full Apple experience, according to a senior executive with the company.

“The Emirates will have the full global assortment in these stores,” said Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores, in an exclusive interview with Gulf News, which is also the company’s first ever interview in the Middle East.

The two stores — one at the Mall of the Emirates and the other at Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi — will open at the same time “because we wanted to wait until the full product offering was available in the market. We timed both stores to open with the full run of products.”

Apple’s latest flagship smartphone, the iPhone 6s, launched in the UAE on October 9 with many retailers reporting strong sales. The Apple Watch launched on October 22 in the UAE. Globally, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus sold more than 13 million units in the first three days, a new record for the company. Apple this year also launched updated models of its Apple TV, iMac and iPod ranges.

Ahrendts, who was the chief executive officer at Burberry until she was hired by Apple in October of last year, said she will be flying in for the opening.

“We’ve got our first two stores that are coming, and I can’t wait,” she said. “I can’t wait to get there in about a week and be a part of the opening festivities.”

Another experience

While Apple has been active in the region for several decades — 30 years according to Ahrendts — with a number of large clients, these new stores will be the company’s first retail endeavours in the country.

“The retail stores are simply to give customers another experience,” she said, speaking to Gulf News from Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. “[Customers] can all buy online, they can all buy through our partners, but then they have wonderful retail stores where they can come to and do workshops, [to] be further educated on their products.”

She said the company is also looking to cater to businesses, since the stores “act as the IT community for all the small and medium sized businesses in the community”.

Ahrendts said these stores are coming into the Middle East after reviewing both the region and retail environment.

“It’s a very important part of the world, for the world and the company, so we have done a pretty high-level, five-year view of what the opportunities [are]. And I think this was just the first for our five-year strategy,” she said.

She added that the location in Dubai was chosen due to its prominence as a tourism hub.

“The key is, this is our initial investment and the Mall of the Emirates is one of the most established malls on the markets, for locals as well as tourists,” she said. “So we felt it was a great starting point, based on its history and based on its clientele,” she said, adding that the Abu Dhabi [store] was designed with a different clientele in mind.

“I consider Abu Dhabi one of the financial capital cities of the world today,” she said. “I think it is the appropriate first store for Abu Dhabi, which can cater more specifically to the customers in that city.”

Developer community

Ahrendts said the stores will focus on workshops from day one.

“We have a huge app developer community in the emirates, and they are all being invited in,” she said. “We do business workshops [and] we do consumer workshops, so week one alone there is a handful of workshops that customers will be able to attend everyday.”

Apple currently has more than 465 stores in 17 countries.

Apple, Inc is the largest company in the world by market capitalisation with a value of more than $674 billion (Dh2.5 trillion) as of Friday.

In the third quarter of the year, which ended in July, Apple reported global revenue of over $49.6 billion. The iPhone alone netted Apple $31.3 billion in the third quarter.

What to expect at the new stores

Ahrendts, who analysts have speculated was brought in from Burberry by Apple CEO Tim Cook to help drive Apple’s growing wearables segment, said the new Apple stores will include “new features for that market ... It will be a new concept in a very established market”.

“We’ve evolving features worldwide everyday to react to the markets,” she said. “I think it’s important that, when we move into a new market, to show that we spend more on service than any [other] company.”

For example, the Dubai store will have trees, she said.

“The genius bar will start to evolve to more of a genius grove area, if you will. The trees just make it cooler and warmer, [with] all of the little dabs of colour that come from them. So hopefully it will be a more calming experience versus the more hectic experience that we get in many of our flagship cities.”

She said Apple wants the environment to be calmer and more inviting and to be more locally relevant.

“It’s a big, philosophical part of the evolution of Apple retail,” she said.

But don’t expect things to be too different.

“It is the same iconic design,” she said. “The customers will recognise those same amazing oak tables and the glass, but you will see a couple of features that will make it a little warmer. There will be an evolved accessories wall that is a little more dynamic and a little warmer. There are new things that we are piloting, and we felt these would be great markets to pilot them in.”

Profile

Angela Ahrendts is Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores, reporting to CEO Tim Cook.

She is responsible for the operation and expansion of Apple retail and online stores.

Ahrendts joined Apple from Burberry, where she served as CEO and led the company through a period of outstanding global growth. Prior to joining Burberry, she was executive vice president at Liz Claiborne Inc, and earlier in her career she served as president of Donna Karan International.

Ahrendts holds a Marketing and Merchandising degree from Ball State University in Indiana, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2010. She is also a member of the UK’s Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council and was named honorary dame commander of the British Empire in April 2014.