How Apple plans to turn stores into 'town squares' — and put an iPhone in every hand

Apple opened a new flagship store on Friday on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, its 497th in the world, up from just 27 in 2001.

The stores are very productive, generating $5,079 in sales per square foot, according to eMarketer — way more than most retailers.

But Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts has a new vision for these stores: They should be “town squares,” places where people meet up with friends, attend concerts and take classes.

CNBC’s Josh Lipton caught up with Apple’s senior VP of retail, Angela Ahrendts, to talk about her vision for the company’s retail outlets.

Ahrendts joined the company in 2014 from fashion giant Burberry and compared her vision for Apple retail to the fashion industry.

“The way we look at it is building a relationship,” Ahrendts said. “It’s no different from fashion — don’t you go back to someone who’s taken really good care of you, who you trust, to make you a better version of yourself?”

She also acknowledged that Apple has told retail employees not to try to upsell customers to the most expensive iPhone model, the upcoming iPhone X (that’s a Roman numeral “10,” not the letter “x.”)

“Internally we said the tagline was ‘an iPhone for everyone,'” she said. “I prefer that we ask you who you’re buying it for. If they’re 6 or 7 years old, what do they need? If it’s someone who’s leaning into something else, what do they need? We do that with Mac, we do that with iPad, why wouldn’t we do that with [the] phone?”

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