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April 10, 2015

Can Style Trump Technology?

Posted by Amitabh Mudaliar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:53 AM

Will Fashion Fall for Apple Watch? [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmgvnGmSOyM]

If there's one thing the great Modernist movement of the mid-20th century taught us, it's that form follows function. We live in world pretty much defined by that mantra. As the technology around us becomes more sophisticated, it's clear that what we focus on as consumers is how the technology can liberate us. The styling or the packaging comes in a distant second.

Or does it? I have been fascinated by various reports that Apple, anticipating the launch of its long awaited Apple Watch, is training its sales associates to emphasize the styling of the Watch. Training its sales staff to discuss fashion is incredibly new territory for a technology company like Apple. So much so that a prominent Apple follower recently wrote that many of the company's newest hires come not from engineering firms but from the likes of luxury fashion retailers such as Burberry, Yves St. Laurent, Tag Heuer, and Louis Vuitton. Sales associates are being given crash courses in how to deal with would-be buyers of the watch by using age-old luxury retailing tactics - not something a technology company and computer maker has typically had to think about.

In the coming months, a visit to an Apple retail outlet might include certain strategic approaches from the staff, including determining to what extent a consumer knows about the new timepiece. Doing so, says experts, allows Apple to decide whether or not to take a shopper right into the sale process or direct her to retail staff specifically trained to teach and answer questions about the Watch. Plus, Apple Store associated will ask questions in order to determine which Watch model to sell to the customer. Questions like: "What does your current watch look like?," "How do you plan on using your Apple Watch?," "Which Apple Watch look matches your personal style?," "Do you prefer leather or metal bands?," and "Are you more of a classic or modern watch enthusiast?" will help the store efficiently classify the consumer into a particular category.

Why are they changing their entire approach to retailing their products? Why is a technology touting style before it talks about function? It's all about the upgrade, dear readers. When potential customers begin answering questions related to fashion, then the associates can slip in questions about iPhone upgrades. An Apple insider says that sales associates will talk about newer iPhone models if a customer uses an iPhones older than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. One of the things we all know is that a consumer needs an updated iPhone to get everything she can out of the new Apple Watch.

Besides establishing a brilliant new sales strategy, the debut of the Apple Watch marks an important point in the evolution of personal technology. The growing popularity of the Internet of Everything and global connectivity means that we as consumers will think less about the technology underpinning the devices and more about the devices themselves. Case in point: When was the last time you thought about electricity and the utilities grid that feeds your home and business the power? Probably not too recently (unless you experienced a power outage!). The same is true of the Internet of Everything. Fairly soon, the IoT will be so ubiquitous that consumers won't think about connecting to the Internet so much as they will about how stylish the devices are that deliver them that global connectivity.

So when I hear that customers can begin visiting Apple stores on April 10th - two weeks before the Watch goes on sale - it all makes sense. Apparently its sales staff will be prepared to classify consumers into four categories: Watch & Sport types, the more upscale Edition crowd, those who simply have lots of questions about the device, and those who simply want to try it on for the first time. If the 20th century was about form following function, then the 21st might very well go down in history as the period when a New Human Revolution began to change consumer attitudes about technology. It's getting more and more important that a consumer be stylish as well as high-tech.

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