Ron Johnson, the Apple retail chief who helped turn the Apple Store into a juggernaut, announced last June that he was leaving to become CEO of JC Penney. He departed Apple as of November 1st. And now he’s been replaced: Apple has announced that John Browett is its new senior vice president of retail operations.
Since 2007, Browett has been CEO of Dixons Retail, a large electronics merchant in the UK that owns two chains, Currys and PC World. It’s sort of both the Best Buy and the CompUSA of its territory.
When I think of the PC World stores, I think of the years when I worked at PC World magazine here in the states. I got a surprising number of e-mails from unhappy customers who were confused about which PC World they were contacting–messages along the lines of “I have a complaint about the price of ink cartridges in your Lancashire branch.” The fact that the logos of the magazine and the stores were nearly identical didn’t make matters any less confusing. (Both companies have since changed their logos–and they’re still very similar. Weird.)
Because I got so many missives from disgruntled PC World shoppers, I tend to have a negative view of Dixons despite the fact that my entire shopping experience with the company consists of having briefly visited a PC World in London about a decade ago. So I asked my UK Twitter pals what they think of Dixons and its stores. Here’s a sampling of what they said:
@harrymccracken OK as long as you a)know exactly what you want b)can avoid their staff as much as possible.
— Neil Williams (@NeilW_NI) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken Fine if you find a good price and don't mind 4 different staff trying to sell you extended warranties on your way back out…
— David Hayward (@nachimir) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken Big, bland, corporate, ubiquitous, lacking any real knowledge (ask staff for advice and they just read the shelf labels…)
— Mark Wilson (@markwilsonit) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken Better than 5 years ago, but still pretty much the opposite of an Apple store – little to no product knowledge among staff
— Ewan Leith (@EwanToo) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken "Last resort" comes to mind re: Dixons / PC World
— Jon Norris (@Jn_Norris) January 31, 2012
— Robin Morley (@robinmorleyUK) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken Dixons high street stores are now under Currys brand. They're usually mediocre and highly variable. Think a meh Best Buy.
— Bobbie Johnson (@bobbie) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken not great. And that's being kind.
— Ian Betteridge (@ianbetteridge) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken Awful, painful, hideous. Think the worst of Best Buy and Radio Shack combined.
— Ben Smith (@benptooey) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken Me: "Tell me about this", Salesman "This product has X". Me: "The label says it has Y, not X". S: "I don't think so"
— Alex Taylor (@adntaylor) January 31, 2012
@harrymccracken two of the worst stores to buy tech in, you thought best buy was bad, well go lower. Only interested in selling u warranty
— Chris Jacksön (@jacmeister) January 31, 2012
Apple presumably devoted a huge amount of thinking to making this hire. But I do find it interesting: When it started the Apple Store, it didn’t hire anyone who was responsible for an existing electronics retailer, most of which have mediocre-to-poor reputations. It hired Ron Johnson, who’d worked at Target, a company that’s generally well-regarded by the industry and by its customers. Johnson brought a fresh outlook to his new gig, and it sure seems to have helped.
Browett, however, is in the electronics business already, and Dixons’ stores, which have little in common with the Apple Store, presumably reflect his views and capabilities. It’ll be fascinating to see how he does at Apple–and if there’s any discernible difference between the Johnson-era Apple Stores and the Brower ones.