Three months after taking the helm of Apple’s on-line and retail stores, Sr. VP Angela Ahrendts toured the New York City stores this week, and sent an email to her employees answering the most common questions she’s heard during her first contacts. “What an amazing 90 days it has been!” Ahrendts said in the email. “I sincerely am honored to be here with you on this fantastic journey.” The store visits are a continuation of her familiarization tour that began earlier this year at San Francisco area store. Ahrendts was spotted today walking the Grand Central (NYC) store with a group of store and headquarters employees, according to a 9to5mac.com story. In her email Ahrendts gave up no clues about the retail stores’ future direction. Instead, she talked about employees being ambassadors of the company, how the on-line and retail groups might learn from one another, and what has touched and changed her so far—”The brilliant balance between the creative and the commercial that the company has maintained as it has grown so dramatically,” she wrote. Ahrendts did note that 80 percent of the time, “Our customer journey begins online and we must evolve to ensure we support this preference.” Lastly, Ahrendts said she will celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary next month, and added that her husband, three teen children, two dogs and two cats will take up residence in San Francisco “soon.”

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The U.S. Secret Service has arrested a Florida man for federal wire fraud related to $309,000 in credit card transactions at Apple retail stores that exploited a procedural vulnerability and the willingness of employees to complete a sale. According to the criminal complaint, Sharron L. Parrish Jr., 24, also attempted to charge another $51,000 on his Chase and SunTrust credit cards, but the transactions were either declined or not completed. Parrish was arrested in Tampa on July 17th and agreed to forego bail until his trial. He is being held at the Pinellas County jail, and is represented by a federal public defender. The Secret Service says that during 2012–2013 Parrish traveled to 16 states making fraudulent credit card purchases at rental car agencies, hotels and Apple stores. The complaint that led to his arrest was based on crimes he allegedly committed or attempted at the Brandon (Fla.), Boca RatonMillenia and Wellington Green Apple stores, involving transactions up to $7,400 each. read more…

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For the first time in recent history, Apple’s announcement of its quarterly financial results did not include details about the retail stores, and a one-hour conference call made absolutely no mention of the chain at all. It also appears the company will no longer report the number of store visitors–the figure was missing from the financial filing for the second quarter in a row. Significantly, Apple said it will open just 20 new stores during fiscal 2014, the lowest number since 2002, the second year of the chain. Two-thirds of those stores will be outside the United States. During the usual one-hour conference call with financial analysts yesterday, chief financial officer Luca Maestri didn’t spend the usual 30 seconds providing details about the stores, including profit, number of visitors, number of stores opened during the quarter, and average revenue per store. Financial analysts also ignored the stores during the conference call, and focused their questions on the details of Q3 and the upcoming quarter. It wasn’t clear why the usual conference call sequence was changed, but the retail store time seems to have been spent on a two-minute summary of the quarter by CEO Tim Cook at the beginning of the conference call. details

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In the on-going attempt to simplify and speed up the process of making retail store training reservations, Apple has reconfigured how Web visitors interact with the “Learn” Web page, including an interactive map of the stores and revised session descriptions. The changes make the process more logical and integrates workshops, Youth Programs and One to One training more fully into the Concierge reservation system. The previous Web page required visitors to read through a description of the various sessions titled “Discover Your Mac/iPhone/iPad” and “OSX Mavericks.” A visitor then clicked on the appropriate “Make a reservation” link to begin the sign-up process. The new Web page has visitors enter their location first, and then a map appears of nearby Apple retail stores. A pop-up window shows the store’s details, with a link to view the available workshops. That next page displays sessions, which are more task-based, including “Design Beautiful Presentations” and “Personalize Your iPhone and iPad.” After selecting a session, the typical display of dates and times is displayed for selection.
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A huge new shopping mall is under construction in a suburb of Lucerne (Switzerland), and if renderings of the future mall are correct, it will host an Apple retail store. The Mall of Switzerland will span 785,000 square-feet in the small town of Ebikon when it opens in 2017, including 120 shops, a cinema, hotel, apartments and public areas. Earlier this year several renderings were posted on-line, and one showed a hallway lined with retail stores. One of those stores was outfitted with typical Apple wood product display tables, back-lit wall graphics and stainless steel structural columns. Just inside the entrance, a back-lit Apple logo is suspended from the ceiling. An odd design mistake also showed an Apple logo and the word “Apple” outside the store, set in the metal above the entrance. Strangely, both the logo and the letters “p” are reversed, apparently to disguise the brand. Although the rendering showed the store on the lower level, no other details are known about the store—or if it will actually appear when the mall opens. Architects frequently use existing retailer names, design elements and logos in their renderings to provide more realism, but not to indicate actual tenants of the mall. However, in this case mall management seems to confirm the future Apple store by responding to inquiries with, “We cannot comment,” instead of denying Apple’s future tenancy. renderings

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Nearly two years after Apple’s real estate scouts were spotted walking the hallways of the Lakeside Joondalup (Australia) shopping mall, sources say Apple has finally signed a lease there and has started to recruit new employees. The store would be the third along the western coast of the country, an outpost of Apple stores about 1,300 miles away from the next-nearest stores. The timing of the new store is understanable—the mall is undergoing a renovation and expansion that will make it the largest shopping center in Western Australia. The work will free up existing spaces and create new ones where Apple can find the perfect 5,000 square-foot location. The city of Joondalup is about 16 miles north of the existing Perth City Apple store, and within the north-south retail corridor established as part of Perth’s master plan back in the 1960s. No specific space within the mall has been reported, but a lease plan shows there are several potential spots. Based on hiring schedules, the store could open in early 2015.

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In a complicated legal ruling issued today, a European Union appeals court says Apple can receive a trademark on its retail store design, because the architecture is capable of distinguishing Apple’s services from those of other businesses. The decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union overturned a ruling by the German patent court, which had said the design was, “an essential aspect of that undertaking’s business and that consumers would not see it as an indication of the commercial origin of the goods.” Apple applied for a U.S. trademark on its retail store design in 2010. The trademark was granted in January 2013, and the company then applied for the same trademark in Germany in September 2013. When the German patent court turned down the application, Apple appealed. In its ruling, the Court of Justice said the trademark hinged on three issues: the trademark must constitute a sign, be capable of graphic representation, and be capable of distinguishing the ‘goods’ or ‘services’ of one undertaking from those of other undertakings. The issues were made more difficult because of the particular wording of EU law, and because Apple’s application drawing was rather primitive. However, the appeals court ruled the design did met all three criteria of EU trademark law, and approved granting trademark status. Download the court’s ruling (pdf) and read an analysis of the trademark issues.

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Apple has issued its latest environmental status report, boasting that all 21 Australia retail stores are now using renewable sources of electricity, and that more than 140 stores in the United States are similarly powered. The company also released electricity consumption figures for the retail stores, suggesting that it costs at least $33 million a year to keep them powered up. The report (pdf) builds on figures released last April that detailed the company’s progress in moving away from electricity generated by coal, gas and other non-renewable sources, and moving to solar, wind and hydro sources. This time, Apple explained that converting the retail stores to renewable energy is “no easy feat, because in many cases a store’s electric meter is in a landlord’s name, not Apple’s.” The company noted that, “many states and countries don’t offer the ability to directly purchase renewable energy.” Even so, there has been progress, “by either purchasing from third-party renewable energy providers or participating in utility green tariff programs that meet our rigorous standards.” details

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During a recent presentation at his alma mater, Apple’s first retail chief explained that the stores were originally conceived as places where communities would form, and that only one of every 100 store visitors actually makes a product purchase. Former Sr. VP Retail Ron Johnson told a Stanford University audience in May that store high-speed Internet connections—nearly unheard of at the time—were intended to attract visitors, allowing them to check their email or surf the Web. Johnson spoke as part of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business “From the Top” series that spotlights company executives. Johnson was an undergraduate at Stanford, and also attended Harvard Business School (HBS). Johnson recalled his close relationship with Steve Jobs, and the main lesson he learned from him—‟You have to be willing to start again.” He recounted the previously-told story (but in more detail) of how the original Apple store design was re-done at almost the last minute in 2001, because Jobs’ trusted Johnson’s evaluation that it didn’t match up with the company’s “digital hub” philosophy. video

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The visuals teams at the Apple retail stores are installing new back-lit wall graphics to promote the capabilities of the iPad and iPhone, but the graphics have also changed the mood of the stores with their photographic style. Previous wall graphics were stylized close-ups of products with lots of bright colors and white space that spilled over into the stores. The new graphics were photographed like magazine ads, showing the iPad/iPhone being used in actual situations, complete with their surrounding people and places. Their colors, tone and brightness is much richer and darker than the previous graphics, a noticeable difference that’s been the subject of Tweets and other on-line postings by store employees and visitors. The photos are partially based on the latest series of videos that promote the iPad and its real-world capabilities, including videos that profile music composer Esa-Pekka Salonen and world traveler Chérie King. photos

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A job listing for a future Apple retail store in Marlborough (Mass.) was posted 10 days ago, but only now has a tipster pointed out the exact location, the Solomon Pond Mall. The Simon-operated mall is adjacent to I-290 about 30 miles west of Boston, a site the company claims is the second-largest metro trade area in the state. The mall’s leasing plan was updated five days ago, and shows Apple occupying a T-shaped space covering 7,400 square-feet, to the right of the Clark’s store on the lower level. The future store will expand coverage west of metro Boston, and will be the 11th store in the state. Based on hiring schedules, the store could open by year’s end. mall plan

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While blogs in the United States speculate on the expansion of Apple stores in China under new Sr. VP Angela Ahrendts, construction workers have been toiling away on stores planned literally years ago, including second and third locations in the country’s ninth-largest city, Chongqing. According to several sources and photos of the sites, stores will eventually open at the Paradise Walk and MixC shopping malls, located north and south of city-center respectively. The store are in addition to the Guotai Plaza store recently confirmed. According to sources, the MixC location has been underway for several months without incident, and job listings have been posted. However, the Paradise Walk location has been delayed by design changes and other issues. The project first came to life in 2011 by Woods Bagot architects. It was originally designed with three levels, each with 20-foot ceilings. However, half-way through the construction phase Apple wanted a more spectacular storefront, and requested a slight change–remove the floor slab between the ground-floor and first-floor to create one spacious level. That design is now under construction, with a 40-foot tall lower level and a 20-foot upper level, surrounding by light-colored stone walls. Based on construction and employee hiring schedules, both stores could open in the first half of 2015. photos

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Just two weeks after a job listing announced that the city of Manchester (NH) would host a future Apple store, the precise location of the store has been confirmed: the Mall of New Hampshire. Store enthusiasts say that Apple recruiters have been in the city to hire staffers for the new store. And just two days ago the mall’s leasing plan was updated to show Apple occupying a space near the center of the mall, across from the Sunglass Hut. The T-shaped space occupies about 6,800 square-feet. The future store will be about 25 miles north of the state’s other two existing stores, Pheasant Lane and Rockingham Park. Based on recruiting schedules, the store could open by late 2014 or early 2015. mall plan

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The Barton Creek (Tex.) Apple store celebrated its 10th anniversary today, with the help of the CapMac Users Group, who dropped by with a chocolate cake for the employees. The store opened in 2004, was remodeled once, and then moved to a larger space in February 2013 to better accommodate visitors. The store is one of two in central Texas surrounding Austin. In the early days of the Macintosh, there were hundreds of users groups in the United States providing technical support and fellowship for a legion of new computer owners. That era is over, but there are still many groups of loyal Mac users and Apple enthusiasts around the country, including CapMac. The group’s Web site says the original store had “an amazing vibe,” which grew even stronger after the new store opened. As for the anniversary, CapMac says, “Next time you’re in Apple Barton Creek, wish Dani and her amazing team a happy birthday—they deserve to celebrate.”

Today CapMac User Group member Qusay Hussein (l.) presented a birthday cake to happy store team leader Chris Olives to celebrate the store’s 10th anniversary.

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In the rush to double the number of retail stores in China, it appears Apple will re-use one of its most iconic architectural designs, the glass cylinder store entrance of the Pudong (Shanghai) store. Construction photos and an architectural rendering confirm that the future Chongqing store will be located beneath Guotai Plaza, a new urban lifestyle and entertainment center. Like Pudong, the plaza features high-rise office buildings plazas, water features and green space, combined with retail spaces. Early renderings of the space showed two circular features at both ends of the plaza. However, in a later rendering, one of the features is covered with a cylinder of glass topped by a white Apple logo, identical to the Pudong Apple store design. Presumably, the cylinder is the entrance to the full store underground. Current photos of the plaza show a very tall gray barricade circling unseen construction work at the same location as shown in the rendering. Photos of the underground space show the early stages of construction. Insiders say the entrance project is being managed by Frener Reifer, a German company that specializes in façade and unique structure construction. Apple has used the company before, including for the Stanford 2 (N. Calif.) and Third Street Promenade (N. Calif) retail stores, the first to use the new V3.0 store design. Based on construction progress, the store could open in early 2015. photos

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