As recently as a couple of years ago1 I would have stood confidently before you and declared the Apple retail store experience to consistently be the best retail store experience, and perhaps the best shopping experience, I have ever had.
I’m not just speaking as an “Apple Blogger” or a tech-geek. I do speak as those things but also as a commercial property manager. What does a commercial property manager do? Well, I’m basically the landlord for office buildings, shopping centers, shopping malls, warehouses, etc. If someone doesn’t call the place “home”, then it’s something I manage for the owner of the property.
Needless to say I deal with retailers all day. I visit a ton of stores, many you would never want to set foot in. What I don’t manage, nor does my company, is any real estate with an Apple Store in it.
Keep that in mind as we continue…
What made the Apple Store one of the best retail experiences I have ever had, and all the more astonishing, was its consistency. No matter the day, time or location of the store, Apple retail always delivered a great experience. This was simply amazing to me: Like iPhone level quality mass manufacturing on a human retail employee level — something I didn’t think possible.
And then, at some point in the last couple of years, Apple changed the way their stores operated and fucked it all up.
Now I play a little game whenever I go to an Apple Store: “Avoid the iPad-Wielding-Apple-Rep”. You know who I’m talking about: the 2–4 Apple employees that hang out in Apple Stores greeting you and asking if you need any help, the ones with the iPads.
Sounds like these are really helpful people, right?
Wrong. These are the scourge of the Apple Store because they cannot actually help you. If you walk up and say: “I’d like to get an iPhone.” They say: “Sure, I will get someone to help you.” They are friendly, but why can’t they help you?
I understand that certain Apple retail employees specialize in certain products, which makes sense. I’m perfectly happy waiting for a knowledgeable representative when I have specific questions about the products. However, the single most annoying thing about iPad-Wielding-Apple-Reps is if you ask them: “Hey, could you ring this up for me?”, you get the response: “Let me get someone that can help you with that.” (“Duh, don’t you see I use this-here iPad to look official and nothing else?”, remains unsaid.)
One of the greatest things about the Apple Store used to be that there were only two employee types: Geniuses and non-Geniuses. You knew the difference because the former always had a line of people waiting for them. At this time you could grab any free non-Genius, pay for your wares and leave. This experience was so great that stores like Nordstrom Rack implemented it to make checkout easy, non-location specific, and personable.
To be fair, only the iPad-Wielding-Apple-Reps can’t check you out (Geniuses are still too busy for that). The problem is that in a typical Apple Store, the iPad-Wielding-Apple-Reps are the ones making eye-contact with you and are generally always available, just not available to really do anything.
Today at the Apple Store I saw a common scene unfold. Four to six retail employees standing around talking, a dozen or so people with broken iOS devices getting help, others looking at iPhone cases, etc. When it came time for me to checkout I turned to the first Apple Store employee and lost my own game — it was an iPad-Wielding-Apple-Rep.
“Let me get someone that can help you with that.”
The time it took waiting for her to get someone to help me check out, was greater than the time it took for me to actually check out. The iPad-Wielding-Apple-Rep could have just checked me out and saved us all time. It’s not like she would have helped anyone else during that time…
This starts to chip away at an outstanding retail experience. I hope the iPad-Wielding-Apple-Rep is a temporary thing, because I am starting to dislike visiting Apple Stores. I feel compelled to avoid these employees.
*A Note from Editor, James Martin:
I wonder if iPad-Wielding-Apple-Reps was a reaction to customers sometimes feeling, at busy times, that it was impossible to get anybody to help with anything. I’ve certainly experienced that phenomenon in Apple stores more than once (usually at the flagship retail locations: NYC, London UK, Sydney Australia).
Maybe for the frustrated, ignored customer some attention is better than nothing. Even if it’s only a placebo.
Rough guess. ↩