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Post Leadership
Posted at 01:44 PM ET, 01/12/2012

Apple mini-stores in Target: Is Tim Cook hitting the bullseye or missing the mark?

(Ashley Pon - BLOOMBERG)
You’re Tim Cook. It’s been mere months since you’ve been managing Apple without the legendary Steve Jobs around. And one of the few bits of news that comes out—after the iPhone 4S announcement and your payday valued at $378 million—is that you’re partnering with Target to open mini-stores inside of big boxes?

CNBC reported Thursday morning that discount retailer Target, known for working with designers to roll out style-friendly products in its stores, is partnering with Apple to test 25 so-called ‘stores within a store’, which will have unique displays and product assortments. Few other details accompanied the announcement, which was part of a larger presentation about new retail concept stores for Target.

Depending on your point of view, this is either a brilliant move—there are certain smaller cities and markets where a full-sized Apple store might not be ready for prime time—or the moment when Apple finally jumped the shark. Apple has long been a product of the masses (millions of people own iPods and iPhones), but showing up in a discount, mass-market retailer that sells more than just technology could make it feel even more mainstream.

My guess is that won’t be a problem. Plenty of high-fashion brands, such as Missoni, Zac Posen and soon, Jason Wu, go into Target for a period of time and maintain their high-fashion aura. And Apple already has centers in Best Buy.

But Cook’s bigger concern should probably be how to meet customers’ expectations in a store not known for its level of service. It’s not clear whether these test mini-stores will simply be bigger displays—Target already sells some iPods and iPads, for instance—or sections of the store staffed with knowledgeable experts. When you’re looking to buy a $999 MacBook Air, for instance, you’re likely going to want some technical help. At this time, it’s unclear whether or not there will be anyone there to assist you, and if there is, whether that person will be an entry-level Target staffer in a red shirt or the sort of Apple aficionado who populates the company’s own stores.

Apple protects its brand voraciously, so I’ll give the company—and Target as its partner—the benefit of the doubt. But as Apple’s new CEO, Cook would be wise to make sure he appropriately sets customers expectations on this new venture, and doesn’t get hit in the company’s bull’s-eye of good service.

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