The main change is in further enabling transactions to take place anywhere within, or even outside the bounds of the store itself. Bear with my explanation a bit, and it'll make sense:
Given the configuration of Apple Stores currently, there is usually a "front product" and "back community" zone.
You enter the store, and are presented immediately with all the line of products available – Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads, and other Apple accessories (Cinema Displays, etc).
Further back, are the third party accessories, the Creative Training and Genius Bar areas, as well as any dedicated cash register/purchase queueing zones. For stores that have it, the "Family Room", and "Workshop Theater" are back here as well. For those familiar with the San Francisco (Frisco*) Flagship store, this roughly equates to the two floors – Product on the first floor, and Community on the second floor.
The main problem with this architecture is simple: the product area attracts lots of general interest – tire kickers, email checkers, people just wandering about waiting for their wife/girlfriend/mom/uncle to get done shopping at the Victoria's Secret next door, etc. This ties up a lot of Apple Specialists, who in the nicest way possible, must weave through these masses to help find people in need of purchasing assistance, who have Genius Bar appointments, or what have you.
Once you scoot past the front, life gets a bit more serious. Same amount of crowd, but now primarily composed of people trying to buy things, waiting for their name to be called for tech support or training appointments, or otherwise focused on an Apple Store-related task. And, at least in the stores I've visited, a significant percentage of these folks are a little touchy if they perceive someone as skipping the line, distracting "their" Apple Expert/Genius/Store Leader, etc.
To resolve all this, a greater push is on to turnaround transactions and appointments faster, without losing the high-touch, high-quality Apple experience. In order to do so, Apple is planning to address this in several ways:
- More stores. This is already underway, and isn't much of a change from the last few years.
- More hires. Apple is now hiring like crazy for its retail stores. The flagship in SF, for example, is already at ~300 employees, and they are looking to add significantly to that number in the coming weeks – both in front-of-house "Specialist" sales personnel, as well as back-of-the-house Geniuses and Experts to help handle support and "tier 2 customer service". Attack the flood of customers with a flood of assistance and support. Yay!
- More "turn power" for employees. Currently, a great many Apple Specialists carry devices that enable card swipe transactions, at least for some purchasable items… But in many stores, there are still third party products which need to be brought to a register with barcode scanner. Apple Store 2.0 changes that, by allowing almost everything purchased with credit cards to be handled directly by store employees – wherever they are in the store. Refunds as well should be covered in the system, along with setting and changing appointments, looking up customer histories, etc. This should allow for more customers to be served in the same amount of space and time than is currently possible.
The combination of the last two factors is aimed at allowing for continued growth in established locations (the SF flagship was originally designed for no more than 75 workers, for example), where it simply isn't practical to add additional space, or another full Apple Store.