Saturday, September 20, 2008

Apple Store in Belfast's Victoria Square opened this morning

Belfast Apple Store

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.

Top of the queue outside Belfast's Apple Store

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!

Belfast Apple Store - staff running out to cheer on queuing customers before the store opened

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.

First customers going through the door of Belfast's new Apple 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.

Hi-Fives and free T-shirts as Belfast's Apple Store opens

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?

Genius Bar in new Belfast Apple Store

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).

Glass staircase at back of Belfast's Apple Store

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.

View through the stairs of the new Belfast Apple Store

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.

Forty five minutes after opening, queues still outside Belfast Apple Store

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).


supersimbo said...

great post man, great post, i missed it opting (made to) to spend the morning in a church full of women! I hadnt the heart after that!!

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

All in a good cause! And the funny thing is that the folks at Apple reading the post (isn't Sitemeter fun!) won't get to leave their opinion or comments ... unless they bump into me in the store and whisper their reaction/feelings.

Stu said...

Great post AIB - a suitable climax (?) to your successful apple Belfast sleuthing!

Anonymous said...

you lucky dog, how did you manage to get in as 'press'

Anonymous said...

got some tip-ex till a graffiti another tee?

Coke_Shy_Hero said...

Disney and Apple? Pixar, perhaps.

My son loved the squishy ball-seats, but like most from this land, is already sufficiently reserved at the tender age of 4 to wonder what in heaven's name all that high-fiving is about :-) Still - it was fun, and again, somewhat like Disney, a little bit of Americana ripped from its home to another locale.

Didn't end up with any first day purchases - but not for the want of trying. The "easybuy" (I think) terminals, proved not to make buying so easy, as they flaked out under the load! And, having a pressing engagement with my son at the swimming pool, I had to rush off. Be back on Monday though for a proper nosey...

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your post, you have a good take on this mornings events (nice pics too). Would have liked to chat with you but it was all a bit hectic today. This will probably become a meeting place for all the Mac/Creative/Blogger/Webdev types in Belfast - Someone should set up a coffee bar next door, would make a killing.


Anonymous said...

Mrs Self and I used the lift, just because nobody else was. It was very slow and stately and had no inner door.

But why was Belfast so buzzing today anyway? We were in town from 4pm to 6pm and the whole city centre was packed - and much 'cooler' looking in citizenry than Belfast usually is, truth be told.

But you haven't told the real business story of the week - that the Hot Spot in Ballyhack has been relaunched as Of Cod and Ulster - it's becoming a chain!

Sorry to go off-topic... I am writing this on a Mac*, if that helps.

*not compatible with the new Sony Reader I got sent free this week!

Anonymous said...

there is a cash till behind genius bar

Anonymous said...

Oh for crying out loud.
It's a shop. You can buy things in it.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

John - will be interested to hear what you make of the Reader ... and how it affects the book experience!

Anonymous said...

What a weird experience it was on Saturday morning. I noticed the amusement on the staff in the shops surrounding the new apple store watching and maybe feeling a little bit jealous that a new shop opening in Belfast in the current financial climate would attract such a crowd. I have one gripe though my free ‘t’ shirt seemed to be one of those one size fits all falsehoods, my wife who did not accompany me o the rather early morning shopping experience is the only person I know who fits it. Bummer.


Joe Fox Photography said...

Well well well, so finally got to meet AlaninBelfast ;-)

Otto-Mate said...

Thanks for the article, good to read as I couldn't make it :(

Can you tell me what's upstairs seating wise for the workshops?


Just The Ticket said...

Thanks Alan for your review - called in briefly myself but it was like any NI Pub on New Years Eve; so I left quickly empty handed!

Oh! it's only another expensive shop in Victoria Square.. won't appeal to many other than the Apple faithful [of which I'm one].

There my be the odd sporadic purchase from the type of shopper VC attracts but I can't see the PC 99.9% Vs Mac 0.01% ownership ratio of the NI computing market platform changing vastly.

Apple invested heavily in NI Education in 1988... and then ran away.. wouldn't even talk to us [in education] with the result that Education boards installed PC based systems.

It's ironic that at one stage my institution had 400 Macs and 5 PC.. now we have 500 PC and as of July nil, zilch, zero Macs, other than the personal MacBook Pro I bring with me everyday.

Trevor, IT Systems Administrator, Belfast

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

otto-mate - I did ask during hte tour, but got a confused answer that mentioned downstairs! Upstairs the genius bar was 4 stools on each side, there are a bank of 8 laptops on a table in the middle, and then there's the four kids seats around their table nearest the stairs. I'll find out on Wednesday lunchtime - may give the iMovie session a go to see if the new "improved" iMovie can actually be rationally explained!

Trevor - Apple are making a lot of headway in the local market - particularly with students. So it's not as bleak as you state. (Though I'm not an all-out Apple evangelist myself anyway.)

Anonymous said...

nice photos chief...

Unknown said...

I'm always glad to see another Apple store open, but I start feeling sad when there are more employees than customers. Tell me that a few people bought high-end MacPros so I won't think it was a waste to open an Apple store there. Any Apple store in NYC has more browsing people than employees most any day of the week.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

Constable Odo - Don't worry. The customer:employee ration was only low during the pre-opening tour. The calm before the storm. When the doors opened, and ever since by all accounts, it's been full of customers.

I saw the guys who were 6th and 7th in the queue - and who had arrived just after midnight to take their place - struggling out of the store with an enormous display in a box. So plenty of trade.

Anonymous said...

Another reason to avoid Victoria Square! When did we become Florida?! All the high-fiving and hype just encourages me to go in the opposite direction.

And Apple, under-exposed...I think not! The only thing worse than under-exposure is over-exposure and it makes me nauseous.

James said...

A total of $16,000 in phones and computer equipment was stolen during a burglary at the Apple Store on Route 73, police said. The business was entered overnight Sunday after the front glass door was broken with a large piece of concrete.