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When shopping for a piece of technological gadgetry is also playing with it

The Atlantic recently put up a blog post comparing Apple Stores’ retail foot traffic to that of other live entertainment. Did you catch that? Apple Stores as live entertainment and not mere shopping? A graph accompanying the post compares Apple Store visits to trips to Disney theme parks and rock and opera concerts (Apple has much larger traffic numbers).

Apple’s Retail Stores vs. Disneyland:

Apple has managed to transform *hanging out in their stores* into entertainment. Of course, kids have been loitering in malls for decades, but the Apple store experience is far more specific. It’s about playing with all the neat Apple stuff [my emphasis].

Unlike other technology retail stores where one merely browses stacks of colorful (garish?) boxes and display mockups on shelves, Apple actively encourages playing with their wares.

At first I hesitated to link to The Atlantic post. On its surface it didn’t exactly appear to capture the notion of playful technology I endeavor to get at. But then it hit me. The Apple Store experience is unstructured free play — the opportunity to engage in playful exploration in an undirected fashion, punctuated with moments of surprise and joy. Of course, Apple technology all by itself goes a long way to help such an experience along.

The Atlantic post goes on to comment about certain shared experiences, grouping visiting Apple Stores with other “cultural touchpoints.” Definitely. In my opinion, play and technology brought together should create powerful shared experiences that bring people together.

What might happen if retail stores began playing with their customers and not only selling to them?

UPDATE (November 10, 2010): The world’s largest Disney Store opened on Times Square yesterday. The news reminded me of a detailed walk-through of the new redesigned Disney Store experience from this summer. Some of the new features are really quite cool. In certain ways, the new Disney Store experience gets at answering my closing rhetorical question regarding retail stores playing with their customers and not only selling to them.

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