Top 100: 3. Apple stores

Apple stores continue to grow in popularity, moving up from No. 7 on last year's Top 100 Retail Movers & Shaker's list.

Apple gave consumers a glimpse into the future of retail shopping when the first Apple store opened in 2001. Designed by San Francisco-based architecture firm Eight Inc., these bright minimalist stores are not unlike the pristine environs featured in Stanley Kubrick's landmark science fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssy," set in a then-far-off future, right down to the ubiquitous screens embedded in the walls and perched atop every surface.

What Kubrick and his co-screenwriter, futurist Arthur C. Clarke, did not foresee were Apple sales associates prowling the sales floor carrying iPod touch devices equipped to scan barcodes and swipe credit cards. Associates also carry an attached stylus customers can use to sign for credit charges. By doing away with cash registers, Apple has eliminated check-out lines.

Then there is the Genius Bar, usually located at the back of the store, where customers can set up appointments for everything from troubleshooting and memory upgrades to lessons in website design and video editing. It remains the most astonishing aspect of the company's retail strategy: Apple has found a way to make people pay to receive customer service.

In October, Apple announced that its largest retail store to date (more than 6,000 square feet with a 55-foot-wide storefront) in the Saint Louis Galleria Mall would be the first to include a detached lounge area with free Wi-Fi. The new Apple Lounge — something never before seen at an Apple retail store — will also feature a Genius Bar check-in space and training area. In addition, Apple announced plans to overhaul its Genius Bars in all of its stores as part of an effort to increase customer satisfaction, promising shorter wait times and quick overnight repairs.

Download the complete Top 100.

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