Apple has announced that its online store will go live in India on September 23. This will be Apple’s first direct retail touchpoint in India, offering a taste of the unique customer experience the tech giant is known for. We spoke to Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice-president of Retail + People, about the launch of Apple’s online retail store in India.
A 30-year Apple veteran, O’Brien reports directly to CEO Tim Cook. She oversees a wide range of functions including talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnership, benefits, compensation, and inclusion and diversity.
Excerpts from the audio interview:
IE: Apple has taken a long time coming to retail in India. So, is there anything special you have done for the Indian market?
Deirdre O’Brien: Well, we are opening the Apple Store online with a full suite of Apple products. In fact, we’ll have our brand new products that we just announced earlier this week, available on the store. And one of the things that we are really excited about is the personalised support that we’re going to have available.
As we enter into Diwali, one of the things that our customers would absolutely love about the online experience is the ability to personalise a product. And so you can put a special message on an iPad or an Apple Pencil. One of the most popular things that we offer is engraving on our AirPods with a special message, in seven local languages plus English, or an emoji. We also have gift wrapping and other ways where you can really connect and provide some wonderful products during the upcoming festive season. In addition, there is the ability to custom configure your Mac, which is something our customers really love and take great advantage of.
IE: India is also a very complex market. What are the challenges you had in setting up the online store here?
Deirdre O’Brien: Well, we have been working in India for quite some time with our network of reseller partners and so we really have a good understanding of doing business in India and really enjoy it. So we feel like we have got a great setup. We think our customers are going to feel really well-served by our ability to deliver products in a really seamless way and, especially during COVID, in a non-contact way.
IE: The online store experience that Apple offers is very unique. And that experience has become much more relevant now with the pandemic. Is that an opportunity for Apple or is that a bigger challenge?
Deirdre O’Brien: We are seeing that customers are shifting a lot to digital right now as you know because of the pandemic. So we have seen a significant amount of our customers coming directly to us to get the products they need to be successful during the pandemic with customers shifting to working remotely to schools shifting remotely. One of the great things about Apple products is how well you can connect with your loved ones and explore your creativity and so we have really felt that the online store has been critical to our customers during the pandemic and we’re really happy that we can be here to support our customers and we will continue to do so.
One of the really neat things that we have been able to do is expand some of the things that we were doing to support our customers. We have Today at Apple in our physical stores, and during the pandemic we moved those sessions to Today at Apple at Home and so we have our creatives, who are sharing sessions about how to get more out of your iPhone and learn more about your camera, and those are being shot in their homes and then shared online. So we are finding ways to make sure that in the COVID world that we are all living in, we are really making that direct personal connection in the best way that we can for our customers.
IE: Apple’s offline store experience revels in its town-square kind of vibe. Is that going to be difficult to bring back in the present circumstances and will you try and recreate that also in a way online?
Deirdre O’Brien: When you visit one of our stores now, you will see that we have a lot of wonderful energy and great connect with customers. We have worked really hard to maintain that in a really healthy way during the pandemic. Health and safety is our number one priority, and so as we have made some adjustments like shifting our Today at Apple to Today at Apple at Home model. And we’ll continue to adjust as we need to to make sure that we’re putting our customers health as our absolute number one priority. But we have been able to maintain a close connection with our customers during these difficult times.
We know how important it is for our customers to stay in touch with those they love and the world around them. We can’t wait to connect with our customers and expand support in India with the Apple Store online on September 23! 🇮🇳https://t.co/UjR31jzEaY
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) September 18, 2020
IE: In the present situation where as you said everything is moving online, is there a fear that it’s going to change customer behaviour if this stays for a longer period of time? And how will you, in such a situation, make offline relevant once the pandemic is over?
Deirdre O’Brien: We want to make sure that we have a lot of different options for our customers to connect with us. In this situation, something we are all learning from and we view as something that’s just an extension of the philosophy we have always had is meet our customers where they are. So we have wonderful in-person experiences that are something that are absolutely loved by our customers and something that we value so much to be able to see a customer, face to face and have that close connection.
Our first online store opened in 1997 and we have been doing online relationships with our customers for years and years and it’s something that we feel very committed to. And so we view this as Apple’s open, we’re open. We are here for our customers whether they want to see us in person, or whether they need us online and we’re going to work to make that connect with our customer exceptional in any way.
We feel really great about where we are today and we want to make sure that we continue to evolve our relationship with our customers. We’re here, no matter what our customers need; we are here whether it’s sales, service, or people have a question, they want some advice. In India, one of the things that we’re offering is our service in English and in Hindi. If customers have any questions, we are happy to answer them. When you buy a device through the Apple Store online and it arrives to you, we have personal sessions available so that you can have that direct connection, and we can help you get set up and running really quickly so we feel like our priority is our customer and we are here no matter what they need.
IE: A big part of this online experience that you mentioned would be the training of the people who will take the calls on these sessions. How did you go about it?
Deirdre O’Brien: We have a really thorough training programme. As I mentioned, that connection with our customers is so critical, and we want to make sure that we are able to really understand what our customers need, and then find the right way to to curate our recommendations and really find that right solution for our customers. And our teams do a fantastic job, building that relationship with our customers and then recommending the absolute right product, and then helping support all along the way. We are really pleased with the team that we have in place and we think they are absolutely going to delight our customers.
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