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Why is Apple Store insisting on a no-go area for competing brands?

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, writes about Apple’s move to ban 'competing brands' in what they call the 'exclusive zone' as they set up physical Store in India

Much to the delight of tech geeks, the iconic Apple Store is finally setting shop in India, Delhi and Mumbai for starters. Much to my tech-challenged dismay, they are insisting on decadent exclusivity that is inconsistent with the digital evolution. 

The stores, incidentally, are opening in Reliance Jio World Drive in Mumbai and a DLF location in Delhi, absolutely premium under all circumstances. What is intriguing though is the ban on 22 so-called 'competing brands' in what they call the 'exclusive zone', which may mean a reasonably large section of the mall if not the entire premises.

The brands most certainly include Amazon, Facebook, Google, LG, Microsoft, Sony and Twitter - a rather expensive view of competition one may suggest. 

You may well believe that this is a function of superior bargaining power as we well know the obsession of impressionable Indians towards this unabashed icon. That they can get away for a rent pay out of Rs 42 lakhs (Mumbai) is also understandable as malls will surely bank on the association to attract top-end tenants, with the bait of profile convergence. But getting away is not the larger point of this narrative as the debate resides on a resounding irony. 

Apple is a brand curated on the fundamental premise of educated choice, an aid to fulfilling one's truest creative potential, even as a static user. It draws heavily from the socio-cultural codes of the Silocon Valley, its portfolio a genuine meritocracy where all get a chance to fly, often beyond imagination. Exactly why so many folks consider it to be a truthful partner brand, undeniably operating at a higher plane but only to make our lives simpler and richer. 

Which is exactly where this obsession for banning 'competition', in an extended format, may be both legal and ethical but deeply ironical from a brand world perspective. Apart from being not customer-centric from a common sensical perspective, as surely the kind of people who visit the Apple Store go through elaborate customer journeys, evaluating alternatives rigorously and passionately. A process that will certainly not be affected by the banning of all communication and brick and mortar presence in the physical vicinity as that is counterintuitive to the way normal people operate, and let me explain further. 

Apple Store, unlike most other stores, is a pre-defined destination and not a casual walk-in, appointment arrival scalable pattern. Those coming can be very loosely defined in two categories, those who have visited a similar locale abroad and those who have not.

In either case, they would be well-informed admirers of the brand and most likely to be in possession of one if not multiple devices. Therefore the 'physical' presence or absence of so called ‘competing' brands is actually an insignificant development, as that does not matter to the end user genuinely, as a rational element of the buying journey. 

You may well argue that the purpose of the exclusive outlet is to attract a new generation of users, the classic upgraders who truly define the genuine potential of the Indian market. Even then, as every data point manfully suggests, customers in the country are clearly committed to information search as a conduit to consideration, the BCG Study of 2019 confirming that it is not metro-centric but indeed a pan India pattern. 

Therefore, the presence of stretchable competition in the physical vicinity of the Apple Store will not be the equivalent of competing vendors in a fish market or even restaurants in tourist traps anywhere in the world. It is incredible that Apple chooses to listen to its lawyers and not respond to its heart, through such ridiculous measures. 

On a different note, it is necessary to dwell a little bit on the humanisation of celestial icons - in the case of brands, the physical presence of aspirational global experiences on our soil. A pattern that is now well established from Louis Vuitton to McDonald's and the unlikely twain does meet - as benchmarks of Western supremacy now suitably humbled by our market potential. 

Systematically, as if a pattern, global giants have descended to India with due reverence and unfettered access surely is quiet barrier for rampant premiumisation. Whether the heavenly glow of Apple will reduce marginally by its experiential presence in Bandra East (plebian till recently) is a subjective matter but the standards surely have to be global and not compromised, a lesson well-learnt by airlines and hotels. 

In fact, if such monopoly gambits are made public, they might actually irritate the millenials and beyond, accustomed to a culture of unabashed choice and not the enforcement directorate. Already it has earned front page coverage in The Economic Times and a suitably motivated PR mechanism of the banned may well stretch this argument further. If Apple Store has to strive, let it do on its own terms and not through pitch doctoring.

Steve had clearly done his job and gone but Tim may well be cooking his own goose. It is both funny and sad that Apple is behaving like the East India Company of modern times, shamelessly seeking favours that are long dead and gone.


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