Thursday, September 25, 2008

Observing Apple




11:00am Saturday. An hour after the mall has opened, out of most of the stores in Barton Creek Mall, Apple has the most customers. As I sit right outside watching people come and go, I observe Apple’s immaculate design of its products to its sleek architecture and friendly atmosphere. Its brightly lit iconic half bitten apple logo placed dead center on the silver gray aluminum storefront stands out amongst other stores’ bland lettering. A model of the new iPhone 3G blown up to 10 times its original size dangles in the window display. The employees, smiles plastered on their faces, are dressed either in bright aqua or orange t-shirts. The interior is brightly lit containing tables that hold a range of products from the new Nano to the Macbook Airs. 

11:21am. The crowd has doubled. I notice that Apple’s neighboring shops include White House/Black Market, American Eagle, Bebe, Hollister, and Gap. There’s a traffic jam of people in front of Apple whereas just across it, Gap is vacant. I’m curious why Apple chose this particular area. Was it because there was no other open space to take when the company moved into the mall? Or was it strategically placed there for shoppers to take a break from clothes? There are several customers in American Eagle. Right next door, there are 30-35 customers in Apple.

I begin counting how many people come out with a new Apple product in their hands. The approximate ratio is 1 out of 7 people, not including people who walk in to get their Macbooks and iPods fixed. How many people who walk in are loyal Apple customers? How many are them fresh new converts from PCs? I notice that more and more families loiter in front of the store. A teenage girl and man walk in. A woman drags out a young boy who whines to perhaps stay longer. A middle-aged man walks out with his laptop. Has it been fixed? Then, a middle-aged couple walks out with a massive 30-inch monitor.

12:35pm. The crowd continues to grow larger. Now, every 1 out of 5 people leaves with a new Apple product. I glance over at American Eagle and Bebe, the larger but unoccupied stores. I wonder if Apple helps to attract people to this side of the mall. Or does it overwhelm and blind customers from seeing anything other than Apple? The mall manager, Nancy Hedrick, had stated that Gap and Apple were a few of the more successful stores, which led me to wonder if Apple influences Gap’s success or vice versa.

1:15pm. Every other minute, people pour in and out. Every employee is helping at least one customer. It seems that more men than women occupy the space. Surprisingly, there are many young families. With young families come mischievous children. I walk in and right at the entrance, there is one boy who crawls under one of the tables while a man attempts to lure him out. Another boy begins to gently swing the Nano models hanging in the window. As I walk deeper into the store, I constantly say, “Excuse me” with the lack of space to maneuver around comfortably and traffic jam of people. I’m reminded of a recent Harvard reading, “Ms. Consumer”, which discusses the idea of the mall being city-like or the recreated downtown. With the traffic jam and unpredictability of people and events within the store, Apple resembles a whole other city within a city (the mall).

2:00pm Saturday. I leave the mall.

7:35pm Tuesday. An hour and half before the mall closes, Apple has about 20-25 customers occupying its space. There are fewer customers tonight. Still, there are more customers in Apple than in its surrounding stores. As I sit outside of the store once again, I notice that the lights in the mall turn on and off every 15 minutes. Does this process conserve more energy? Doesn’t turning them on and off waste more energy? Is it telling customers that the mall is preparing to close? Bebe is completely vacant. The employees, without customers to aid, linger in front of the doors observing people.

8:04pm. A security officer leans against the pillar next to me observing my actions. I continue to write in my notebook. A couple drags out their toddler from the store. The boy lies down on the floor. Two students who I had previously seen walk out with new purchases come back within 20 minutes and enter again. Are they returning something that they had just bought? Or could they not resist coming back one more time before they left the mall? A woman glues her eyes on the window display as she walks by, stops, hesitates, turns back around and enters. Three loud students with food in their hands casually enter. Is food allowed in the store? At Gap, a woman walking her Chihuahua dog captures my attention. Didn’t the mall manager mention that pets were not allowed?

8:20pm. Since there are fewer people at Apple than there was on Saturday, I decide to leave Apple and explore elsewhere. Nordstrom’s has a small café called the E-Bar. Nearby, there is a seating area with leather couches that have six pillows each. Hedrick stated that people would ruthlessly rip the pillows off the couches. I picked up a pillow that was strewn across the floor and examined the back. Attached to it was a Velcro sticker that sticks to the leather couches. Perhaps this was an afterthought from discovering that people rip the pillows off no matter what.

8:35pm. I walk some more and see an employee at the Sprint cart watching Youtube videos on his laptop, oblivious and indifferent to his surroundings. Then, in the corner of my eye, the lady with her dog walks by swiftly. I follow her out towards JcPenney where she exits the mall. I notice that as soon as I enter the JcPenney threshold, a musky smell and warm air encompass me. The air conditioning is turned off. Immediately, I am repulsed by the smell and walk back into the open mall area.

9:00pm. I stand in front of the downward escalator wondering where the upward elevator is. I look across the space and see it at a separate end. Why weren’t the escalators built next to each other for better convenience? In other areas of the mall, they were. Stores begin to close.

9:10pm. I return to Apple one last time. There are still about eight customers left even after it has been closed for 10 minutes. Apple is still alive, brightly lit.

Every other store is vacant.

No comments: