The Northern Irish blogosphere is going to get tedious for a while, with the twitterati all turning up for the opening of the Belfast Apple Store in Victoria Square.
The first hardy souls started the queue before 11pm last night. Matthew, Michael, Stuart, Wayne and Karl. Another few arrived after midnight, better prepared with camp seats! And then it was early morning – 5am-ish – when the rest of the queue started to form.
Belfast’s not known for queuing – unless it’s for Returns in Marks and Spencer after Christmas – so there was a decent crowd to witness the opening of the brushed aluminium shrine to consumerism!
An ability to cheer and welcome seems must be high up the list of skills the interviewers were looking for when they staffed the Belfast store.
The usual Apple rituals of swarming out of the store before the actual opening to greet and hype up the crowd, before returning in to form a tunnel and hand out T-shirts.
The colour of T-shirt marks out your job – a bit like Star Trek (except there are no red shirts). So expect to be met by an orange concierge at the door or the top of the stairs, blue folk will help sell you things and take your money on their wireless credit card machines (no cash tills in the tight-for-space Belfast store - Update: actually, there's one up in the Genius Bar) and you can book in (or just wander up) to see the dark blue-shirted genii who will help you with technical problems when you’re scratching your head. The logo up on the wall behind the Genius bar will look familiar from the recent iTunes update. (Keep me right if I’ve messed up the colours.) Oh, and did you catch all the customers wearing the same skull and cross bones T-shirts?
Downstairs is devoted the Apple laptops, iPods, displays; while upstairs you can find accessories, third party products. Headphones and cables. There’s a really cute kids table that’s sure to be a success with parents. As today’s store opened, they hadn’t received any stock of 16GB iPod Nanos ... which are currently delayed on the Apple website (rumoured to be because Apple brought forward their manufacture schedule in light of Microsoft surprise launch of 16GB Zunes a couple of weeks ago).
Unlike the bigger Apple stores, the glass staircase is tucked away at the back. It is glass, and it is surrounded by brushed aluminium-looking wall cladding, but it’s not the iconic centrepiece of the store. And it could be tight enough when they squeeze people in for the lunchtime and evening workshops.
Great fun to meet up with folk in the queue. The staff were really friendly – though I wonder if their bins will be found full of Red Bull! So no more speculation about the store’s location and opening date. Phew! It’s good to see that the island has eventually got its own store and access to the Genius Bar.
While the main part of the post deals with the store itself, it was interesting to watch Apple at work this morning.
Apple’s ability to control is legendary. Until recently, there have been relatively few leaks about product launches. Staff don’t talk about Apple outside work. Even the job application process is shrouded in mystery and non-disclosure. It’s a brand that’s carefully managed, whose message is precisely articulated, not over-exposed, never under-priced.
It’s not just that this morning’s opening was well organised. Nothing was left to chance. Meticulous cleansing of the store, with every surface polished and re-polished before the doors opened. A dust-free, smear-free temple to the product range. Consumerism at a different level to House of Fraser or Next.
This morning’s message was all about the customers. An experience that should be savoured by the masses queued up outside. Before the doors opened officially, the manager James gave an “iTour” around the store to waiting press and (citizen!) journalists – thanks Tanya. Sounded like James had opened a few stores before today! Probably the last time that the store will be quiet and will have more staff out on the floor than public. But while the media could record his audio tour around the store, there were no interviews. If anyone’s voice was going to be heard on the radio/TV, or anyone’s comments were to be read in the newspapers, it would be the customers.
The absence of traditional cash registers – while a practicality to maximise floor space – also removes the reminder that you have to pay for products. That, and the absence of prices on the shelves – you’ve got to pick up an item and touch it, turn it over and explore it to find the price label on the back. It’s like customers are encouraged to fall in love with the product, and then when it’s too late give in to having to pay for it.
Is it consumerism at its worst? Or just its most organised?
I left without buying anything. No surprise given that my wallet was empty! But it did leave me wondering as people came streaming out of the shop having made a purchase, explaining:
“I had to buy something, it’s the first day.”
Driven by a desire to take a part of the Apple dream home with them. To buy into the ideal. Reminded me a bit of Disney in Paris back in June. Maybe Apple and Disney have a future together! Maybe not.
More photos across at Flickr and the Belfast Apple Store pool. And the opening got its 45 seconds of
glory coverage on Monday morning's Good Morning Ulster on Radio Ulster - starts at 2:18:26 (available until early on Monday 29 September).