News comes today that Apple retail chief Ron Johnson has decided to leave the company to head up department store retailer JCPenney.
Those of us in tech always question the wisdom of anyone who leaves the industry, especially for one that most tech folks would consider mundane and boring. The gulf in perception between selling iPads and iPhones to the technological elite and the “rag trade” is very high, but for those of us who have spent our lives working in, or following retailing, the move makes a lot of sense.
Certainly Mr. Johnson has made a lot of money at Apple and done something very few retail execs can say they did – build a world-class, multi-billion dollar retailer from scratch. But building is different than buying and the opportunity to bring a tech sensibility to an already successful U.S. department store retailer, a segment of retailing that has seen its challenges over the past decade, by applying the lessons learned at Apple must have proven irresistible.
We have often said that tech hates retail. Most tech execs, analysts, and reporters look at retail as evil. They see the retail store as a destroyer of value, branding, lifestyle benefits, and engineering cleverness while dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator and acting as an impediment in their ability to get their products to consumers instead of as a partner in bringing those benefits to the market. Apple and Ron Johnson put that concept on its ear and made the retail store the centerpiece of a product and branding strategy that has transformed Apple and tech. It will be interesting to see how Apple adjusts to the loss of its retail guru and if it can remain a world-class retailer without a world class retailing advocate to constantly remind itself of how the retail store is an integral part of a great tech experience.
Stephen Baker, is the VP, Industry Analysis at The NPD Group