Why Does The Apple Store Close So Damn Much?

Interesting story this morning on 9to5Mac that poses the question: “Apple Store Outtages - Reality Distortion or Substandard Ecommerce?”

When the Apple Online Store goes down, and visitors are met with the now-iconic yellow Post-It note, and bloggers all over start frothing at the mouth at the prospect of being first to break news about the newest product addition or price change or layout tweak so they set their browser to auto-refresh every 2.5 seconds - is it on purpose, or is it because Apple has a crappy backend system?

I’m inclined to think it’s more the former than the latter. Once upon a time, it was tougher to bring out sweeping updates to an ecommerce site like Apple’s. Nowadays, though, you’d have to be doing things pretty exceedingly wrong to require a complete takedown just to update a couple little things. What I think is happening here is simply an case of Apple understanding it’s place in the business world, and knowing what it means to be Apple. Unlike Dell or Amazon, for example, who add new merchandise to their stores all the time, when Apple introduces a new product it is an event. Closing the store is a way of increasing the weight of the introduction - it’s in the re-opening of the doors that the magic of the new look, the new featured products, really hits home. Apple knows better than anyone how to cultivate buzz, and making people wait in line to get in is a great way to increase the special-ness of the experience.

But how to explain the store going down for incidental changes? Consistency, I think. And because they know that they’re in the public eye, and that hundreds of knee-jerk gotta-get-some-pageviews bloggers will publish a post simply to say the store is down. And then they’ll put up another post to say “nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” Or they’ll do that, and then five minutes later put up another post about some new product or section or layout change, and their readers will reply that, no, bozo, that was four days thirteen hours six minutes and 24 seconds ago. God. And then another post (or update) to say, “Oh. Readers have said this is old. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” Whether or not it was designed like this from the beginning isn’t relevant. What is, is how Apple has turned these outages into huge traffic-drivers, unpaid advertising and word-of-mouth, and, consequently, money-makers.

And so on and so on, and this is how brand mythology works.

Even if the Apple Store really does have a crappy backend, and these outages are out of necessity, there is a lesson to be learned here. What happens when your site goes down, or your business is closed? What are customers greeted with? Do they get a default 404 page, a crappy handwritten sign sloppily taped to the door, or a fancy post-it note?

Which one do you think will increase the chances they’ll be back later?