The Indiana native has led Burberry since 2006, and analysts say she could be a good steward for Apple’s brand as it makes a wider push into the mass market. Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at the Gartner tech research firm, said Ahrendts should be able to help Apple keep its boutique reputation even as it takes steps to reach more consumers with a cheaper version of its iPhone.
In her time at Burberry, Ahrendts helped reestablish the high-end fashion brand after the popularity of the firm’s products grew so quickly that it lost its exclusive feel, Milanesi said. By improving the in-store experience and being strategic with advertising, Milanesi said, Ahrendts has managed to turn that image back around.
The problem of overexposure is one that Apple is wise to head off, Milanesi said.
With Burberry, “it got to the point where if you had money, you didn’t want [Burberry products],” Milanesi said. “Avoiding that is crucial to Apple. That’s the balance you want: The brand is affordable, but it remains aspirational.”
Ahrendts comes to the position nearly a year after John Browett left as the tech titan’s retail chief. Browett was Cook’s first major appointment but stayed for only six months, as complaints started to roll in about declining customer service.
The problems Browett faced, analysts said, sprang largely from mismatched ideals.
Browett came from the British retailer Dixons, an electronics store similar to Best Buy, where he was focused on moving customers through stores quickly. But that’s not the appeal of an Apple store, Milanesi noted. In fact, the firm has taken pains to give its retail operations a homey feel and worked to build a user community, offering free workshops and youth programs.
In a statement, Cook noted that the company wants to keep honing its customer service and said that Ahrendts has proved her ability to do that.
“She shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience,” Cook said. “She has shown herself to be an extraordinary leader throughout her career and has a proven track record.”
Burberry’s chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, will take over for Ahrendts when she leaves the firm “by mid-2014,” according to a statement by Burberry.
Apple’s retail operation is believed to be one of the more valuable in the world. Asymco analyst Horace Dediu estimates that each Apple retail store pulled in
$13 million per quarter. The company is also looking to expand its retail footprint, particularly overseas in countries such as China and Turkey.
Apple shares rose slightly Tuesday, closing at about $499 a share.