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The UK-based travel agency group Thomas Cook is jumping on the Apple store bandwagon, and unabashed about it. It is opening a new 1,400 sq ft “concept” store in the White Rose shopping centre in Leeds by Christmas. And if by “concept” it means copying Apple’s concepts wholesale, then so be it.
The company’s retail director Joanna Wild explains it: “Our new store will be more Apple than travel and uses technology and techniques championed by iconic, high-tech brands to place our customers at the heart of the experience; allowing them to choose how they access information and dictate the level of assistance they receive from us.”
In other words, lot of iPads! And Facebook checkins! Sleek wooden benches! And oh, those t-shirt and lanyard-wearing hipsters ready to help you!
And there’s more: “The holiday vibe in-store will be created with ambient music and video, while social media technologies will enable customers to share personalised, holiday-related content” and it will be the first step “in truly networking Thomas Cook travel consultants across the country”.
For keen digital history-watchers, this is akin to the hope that magazine industry had when iPad first came out: that these new sleek devices would be the savior it was waiting for, and those whizbang-laden magazine apps was what the users really wanted. It hasn’t turned out anywhere near what those hopes were for one simple reason: if a magazine like Time sucked in print, pretty high chances it would suck in the iPad app too, and that’s exactly what happened.
There’s surely a place for some hybrid digital+offline consumer travel retail experience, and heartening to see the likes of Thomas Cook, Thompson and Virgin Holidays experimenting, but the answer has to go way beyond the iPads-installed-on-sleek-wooden-tables gimmick.