Apple replacing retail boss as pressure on for sales

Mae Love
February 7, 2019

Questions are now being asked about the viability of some Apple stores that are located in prime retail positions in some of Australia's most expensive shopping locations.

The tech giant announced that Angela Ahrendts, senior VP of retail, Apple, will step down in April for "new personal and professional pursuits".

O'Brien, who joined Apple from IBM in 1988, was made veep of HR ("people" in Apple's terminology) in July 2017. It operates Apple Pay, the mobile payment system, and Apple Music, the music service. The Apple Watch has gone on to be a very successful product for Apple, while her efforts in Retail saw Apple stores continue to evolve into high-tech fashion statements.

For many months past year, customers seeking to exchange batteries, as part of a low-priced battery replacement program for iPhones, had to wait several days for their repairs to take place in stores.

From the outside, at least, Ahrendts' time as Apple's retail honcho has been impressive. Ahrendts, 58, joined Apple after serving as the chief executive officer of fashion giant Burberry Group Plc for nearly eight years. I am grateful to Angela for all she's done for Apple, and I'm looking forward to what Deirdre will bring to her new role.

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Cook thanked Ahrendts for her five years at Apple, saying "She has been a positive, transformative force, both for Apple's stores and the communities they serve".

"Her focus was integrating the online and offline experience, which in some ways took the focus away from an excellent in-store experience", said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures.

While at Apple, Ahrendts engineered renovations of high-profiles stores in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other cities in an attempt to transform them into hip places to hang out while shoppers checked out the company's latest innovations. "The brick-and-mortar store still has friction around the consumer experience, and Apple is committed to making it better".

Due to their high-profile locations and role as product-demonstration spaces, Apple's stores have an outsize effect on the company's bottom line, said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

"In a nutshell, while the timing of this departure is a head scratcher, change could be a good thing for Apple as the a year ago has been nothing to write home about", Ives said. It's an unusual move-both HR and retail are huge responsibilities, and Apple retail has never been run by someone without an extensive background as a merchant. The 30-year Apple veteran will continue to lead the people team, overseeing such functions as talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnership, benefits, compensation, and inclusion and diversity. But I do wonder: What happens if the time comes when Apple must change course to ensure that its storefronts remain a mind-blowingly triumphant success in what has been a hardscrabble century, so far, for the retail business?

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