Three big takeaways for retailers from Apple's 'Unleashed' Event

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Summary: As retailers, it’s easy to look at Apple and think we'll never be them. But taking lessons from their timely decisions at this year's ‘Unleashed’ event can serve as a way to continuously improve your own business: 

  • Listen (and act) on customer feedback, even if it’s costly
  • Invest in your supply chain (especially during the pandemic) 
  • Embrace the competition 

What did we take away from Apple's ‘Unleashed’ event?

There were some really interesting unveilings at Apple’s ‘Unleashed’ event this year, and if you tuned into the event you're already familiar with most of them. But beyond technology, I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge several timely, bold decisions that retailers should be paying attention to and considering.

Listen (and act) on customer feedback, even if it’s costly

First, the value of listening to customer feedback and admitting when you’re wrong about something. After infamously replacing all existing ports with a complement of 4 USB-C ports and a questionably useful touch bar back in 2016, they doubled down and released several more iterations with the same slate of ports/touch bar. Now historically, Apple has done really well at removing vestigial I/O methods ahead of the pack. They were the first mainstream manufacturer to do away with floppy disks, CD-ROM drives, the analog video output, the headphone jack on mobile phones, etc. This time though? They were wrong.

While they didn’t come out and say it, the fact that they reintroduced the useful ports they removed is as close as you’ll get to a tacit acknowledgment. And guess what? Nobody is lambasting them for going back. They’re not being ridiculed. The main criticism one could level at this point is that they took too long to go back. They listened to customer feedbackand even went beyond introducing a braided USB-C to Magsafe adapterand it’s earned them a fair bit of goodwill from previously jaded Pro users. I know of several people hanging on to their 2015 and earlier MacBook Pros who are now pulling the trigger since the SD card reader and HDMI port were more useful than any speed increases.

Invest in your supply chain (especially during the pandemic)

Second, the value of investing in your supply chain to improve your customer's purchasing experience. Despite global chip shortages restricting the availability of consumer components, they’ve been able to launch multiple new products that will be in customers' hands pre-Christmas. In near real-time, delivery windows on their site are updating to show a one-week window a month (or more) out where you can expect to receive your product.

Now, if you’re not the most valuable company in the world with a cool quarter trillion dollars floating around your bank account, you’re more likely to be subject to the whims of whatever the rest of the world is going through. However, that doesn’t stop you from doing some basic projections based on what your supply chain is telling you and making some reasonable assumptions for shipping dates. This increases the chances that your customers make a purchase from you today and are willing to wait, instead of going somewhere else to fill the need.

Embrace the competition

Finally, the week before Apple introduced the new MacBook Pros with their M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, Intel’s CEO went out and acknowledged that they’d fallen behind, but were confident they could earn Apple’s business back. Apple proceeded to essentially stomp all over that notion by introducing a mobile CPU/GPU that trounces the highest end mobile CPUs Intel has to offer in most workflows, using half or less the power. On a portable, this translates to longer battery life, less heat, and less fan noise—pretty key things for something often used on someone’s lap.

Some will point to gaming performance—which they’re right! Most games are built with x86 (Intel) architecture in mind, so even the M1 Max isn’t going to be competitive unless the game is built for an M1. For the few examples out there though, the M1 Max offers nearly identical performance to the top-end discrete GPU while drawing only 46% of the power.

Ultimately, this competition is good for everyone, but especially for consumers. Intel and AMD have long owned the CPU market. While we have continued to see incremental improvements to speed, the improvement to efficiency is the real headliner here. Already, pre-production samples of Intel’s Alder Lake chips are beating out Apple’s M1 Max on raw performance—but the efficiency variable remains to be determined. For Apple, Intel, and AMD alike, the competition is fruitful because it drives them forward and ensures that they cannot become stagnant for fear of losing business.

Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there you can move mountains.

- Steve Jobs 

A lesson from Steve 

While these three takeaways may seem a little mundane for the tech giant, Steve Jobs said it best: "Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there you can move mountains."

It’s pretty unlikely that you’re designing the next generation of computer chips or redefining supply chains, but it’s all but certain that you will face competition. Clarity on what exactly you’re good at and intense focus on making that better will virtually always serve you best. Someone else is likely to do it cheaper or faster or at a higher quality than you—so what’s your story? Distill that to its simplest form, and make sure your customers know what you’re all about.