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What Restaurants Should Learn from Apple's iPhone Event


The day should have been a milestone. Instead it was a disaster.

Apple sold one million 3G iPhones over the weekend, but the blogosphere went nuts over the repeated inability to activate those phones. Steve Smith of the Mobile Insider had a decidedly negative experience with his daughter. 

To its credit, Apple did everything they could to minimize disappointment. When the 16Gb black models were dwindling, or hours later when the white models were almost out of stock, Apple employees did their best to keep people informed of what was happening.

Retailers should take note because they will soon be sharing Apple's pain.

In the retail business there's an old saying about the difference between driving sales and driving traffic. You can have an incredible event that fails to pay for itself, because the people that go to that event aren't there to buy, and they squeeze out the people that are there to buy.

Going forward, I think retailers will need to figure out how to level peaks and fill valleys.

They will need to find ways to mollify customers who show up -- and are disappointed -- when there is a ton of traffic. And they will need to find ways to boost traffic during non-peak hours.

Traffic peaks used to be so predictable. Black Friday. The day after Christmas. When a radio station announces gasoline for a buck a gallon.

Today is a different story. The local CVB or the hotel a mile away might be hosting a conference that fills the tables. Or, a single blogger with a timely message and a receptive audience can trigger a stampede.

When business spikes like that, it may seem like a godsend. But to your clientele, especially people who think of themselves as repeat customers, that one negative experience may be the one thing that causes them to never return. Going forward, retailers should learn from Apple's experience by:

  • Keeping in contact with the local CVB and local hotels to see when large conferences are scheduled. You shouldn't indiscriminately add extra staff, but you should have some of your better off-duty people on hand in case traffic improves dramatically.
  • Give your customers a Plan B. If you're completely full and people just drove a half hour to visit you, have a list of suggestions available -- and better yet, take a few minutes to make arrangements with the other restaurant to make sure you don't strand your customers. Sure, you hate to refer customers to competing places, but it's better than ignoring your customer's needs.
  • Visit websites like Cornell's Center for Hospitality  Research -- look for articles on revenue management and use their free tools. For example, in just a few minutes you can calculate what level of staffing will provide the best service while maximizing your profit.


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