Editor's pick Podcast Retail technology

How Tim Kobe shaped Apple and the future of retail

Rachel Arthur and Tim Kobe
Rachel Arthur and Tim Kobe

The type of experiences a retailer brings to their stores shouldn’t be determined by what the competition is doing, but ultimately what’s relevant to each brand, argues Tim Kobe, founder and CEO of strategic design firm Eight Inc, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Kobe is known as the designer behind the original Apple store, which arguably paved the way for what modern day customer experience in retail looks like. But his view is that too many brands are jumping on the “experience” bandwagon because their peers are, and not thinking about how important it is to be sincere to their values.

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“People have started to expect that the values that the brand is standing for, the thing its known for, is going to come through in the experience,” he explains. It’s only by doing so that will you create experiences consumers want to share, he notes.

He’s been doing that since he founded Eight Inc in 1989 and first worked with Apple, under the direction of late founder Steve Jobs, in 1996. His focus was on moving the store from “a transaction space into a culture space”.

Retail has of course evolved significantly since then, largely thanks to the evolution of technology, e-commerce and the mobile devices shoppers now carry everyday. But what hasn’t changed is human connection, Kobe explains.

“To me the human interaction supercedes all of the tech, all of the AI… I use the iPod as an example. No one remembers how much memory it had, no one remembers how many centimetres thick it was, or millimetres – what they remember is a 1,000 songs in your pocket. It goes back to, ultimately, any product has values if it delivers on human outcomes.”

It’s for that very reason, he argues that the future of retail has to be about the future of human interactions. “[It’s about] understanding what people are doing and how they’re interacting with one another… We have to get back to understanding a bit more about the most successful human interactions that you can create. Put the technology in the background, put it behind, but let the human interactions and that contact be the thing that we get smarter at, the thing that we get better at.”

In this episode with TheCurrent’s Rachel Arthur, he also talks about the idea of “monochannel retail”, which is all about using digital and physical spaces simultaneously, dives into his work in China with brands including Xiaomi and Lincoln, and explains just how brands can get past the format fatigue we’re seeing in stores worldwide today.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.