pt.4 How the most successful businesses are harmonising their digital and physical worlds

July 31, 2019

Face-to-face marketing is already all around us. Some of the world’s most successful brands do it every day. They are maintaining both incredibly dynamic digital platforms and highly innovative physical retail spaces. Critically, they are not only remaining relevant in both spaces, but they are redefining what it means to ‘be digital’ and ‘be physical’.

I’m talking about Apple and Amazon.


Apple has been selling computers since the 1970s. In 2000, they reported a fourth quarter profit of $170million with the company poised to release new products, including the iPod.

Steve Jobs had been back at the helm for three years and had grown frustrated at how poorly Apple products were marketed in third party retailers, as reflected in their declining computer sales.

So, in 2001, despite heavy investment into iTunes and Mac OS X, the first Apple stores were opened to improve retail presentation of the company and build relationships with customers.

How they did it

Physical Image

As with their products, Apple stores look like no other stores. The digital brand has been brought to life spectacularly in the real world. The design outside is traffic stopping but simple while the uncluttered, fresh interiors instantly remind you of their website.


The digital merges with the physical at every opportunity. Sales staff take payment via iPad, smart
signs beside each display product offer way more information than paper signs could and include a 
call button to summon assistance.

With such a strong digital presence, there was much speculation that Apple would fail physically.

But instead, within three years, they reached US$1billion in annual sales.

Retailer or marketing space?

In 2016, they announced that they will drop the word ‘store’ from each store name. So, Apple Store, Mayfair, will become simply Apple, Mayfair.

People are just as likely to visit an Apple store to attend an educational session at their Genius Bar, or play with one of the new products on display, as they are to buy a new iPhone case.

Assistance is on hand of you need or want it but that is entirely up to you. These stores are all about allowing people to engage with the Apple brand at their own pace and in their own way.


What began as an online book shop in 1994, surpassed Walmart as the most valuable retailer in the US by market cap in 2015. It did this by expanding its product lines to include just about anything, totally disrupting the publishing world by introducing self-publishing software to any author and by knowing when to step into the bricks-and-mortar world of physical retail.

Jeff Bezos wanted to take part in the internet boom when he started selling books online from his garage. The last thing on his mind at that point was having physical retail stores and yet, fast forward January 2018 and that’s exactly what he did when he unveiled the first Amazon Go store to the public in Seattle, having already bought Whole Foods in 2017.

Having been the demise of many small stores on its road to online dominance, it seemed counter-intuitive for Amazon to go physical. But Bezos knew that 90% of worldwide retail spending still happens in person.

In the first three months of 2018, Amazon reported that its sales had doubled to $51 billion.

How they did it

Physical Image

Amazon Go stores are welcoming and warm, with lots of natural wood to make you feel cocooned and at home. The Amazon logo is prominent of course and, as with the online marketplace, it’s all about customer service.


Freedom to come, get and go is the essence of Amazon Go.

Automation and data-mining technologies from the e-commerce world blend to create a whole new physical shopping experience.

The main difference here is the absence of check outs – because no cash or card payments occur.

To purchase anything from Amazon Go, customers use the free app on their smartphones to enter the store, pick up anything they want and leave. A combination of technologies including computer vision and machine vision, detects who you are and anything you pick up or put down. Items are then charged directly to your Amazon account.

Retailer or marketing space?

Amazon Go offers a mixture
of purchasing, marketing and educational services. Customers can try out the different Kindle e-readers, streaming TV devices and other gadgets before buying. Tutorials on any products are offered at weekends.


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