Apple Store Service Sucks

I visited the Apple Store in Polo Park earlier today with the intention of finding out whether they had any Magic Mouses (mice?) in stock and spending some Christmas money purchasing one if they did. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect this sort of thing to be a fairly straightforward, 3 – 5 minute process. Instead, it took 10 or more minutes – I wasn’t counting – and my wife ended up in a verbal altercation with another customer. However, this is not an isolated incident, I’ve been to the store once or twice a month since opening and every time I’ve attempted to purchase something it has not been a pleasant transaction. The customer service stinks.

I believe the problem is entirely due to the lack of a designated “checkout” area. If you haven’t ever stepped foot in an Apple Store, the main staff (I think Apple refers to them as “Concierge”) walk around the store seemingly aimlessly waiting for customers to flag them down, there are no checkout counters or cash registers. I can see the logic behind this type of set up: without a designated check-out area you don’t have long, ugly lines forming around the store and you don’t waste retail space. Without designated “cashiers,” all staff are able to help customers with any task. In theory, it’s more efficient than a traditional retailer.

In practice, the whole system breaks down if there are equal numbers of customers wanting help and staff.

It’s not always entirely clear whether a staff member is helping a customer or not; they may need to run to another part of the store to do one thing or another – in this situation, you find yourself trying to flag down someone who’s either ignoring you or has to sluff you off. In and of itself, this is not a problem unique to the Apple Store, this happens at any retailer when you’re trying to get help on a busier day. At the Apple Store because there are no designated checkouts, you’re forced in to this customer-unfriendly situation even if you do not need any help with your purchase. At best it’s a minor annoyance, at worst it doesn’t leave me feeling like a very valuable customer. I almost feel like this behavior serves to reinforce the old Apple-elitist attitudes, i.e. Apple only has a limited amount of time to dole out to the peons. Not only that, this type of system favors the visible and vocal customer, a dis-service to the typical-introverted-geek that makes up the core of Apple’s customer-base.

Most retails stores have a queuing area is because it works, it’s an accepted shopping convention that all customers know how to interact with. The key component in good customer service is setting expectations, a queue is a good way to accomplish this. If I see 10 people waiting at a checkout I can roughly estimate how long it will take me buy something or get service, I can adjust my patience accordingly. With staff randomly scattered around the store I’m not able to easily determine how many staff are engaged with a customer, how many are free and how many customers are waiting on a giving staff member – i.e. I don’t have enough information to calculate how much time to expect to be spending in the store. Queues also make it very easy to distinguish between customers waiting on service and customer who are just browsing or staring into space. When informal queues form around a given staff member it’s impossible to tell who’s “in line” and who’s not. As I alluded to earlier, this can cause the customer who’s “next” to yell at your wife for not waiting her turn.

The Apple Store is chaos. Whenever I try to get help I feel like a little lost puppy. Maybe that’s how Steve Jobs wants it. If I could have made this purchase online, I would have.

15 thoughts on “Apple Store Service Sucks

  1. So you say you’ve been to the Apple store several times and you still cant figure out whats going on? I fail to see how Apple is doing it wrong when you can checkout with any employee anywhere in the store. How is that worse then standing in a line? And by the way, the plural or Magic Mouse is Magic Mice.

  2. So you say you’ve been to the Apple store several times and you still cant figure out whats going on? I fail to see how Apple is doing it wrong when you can checkout with any employee anywhere in the store. How is that worse then standing in a line? And by the way, the plural or Magic Mouse is Magic Mice.

  3. @What?
    I don’t think you even read the post. But, the fact that I cannot “figure out” the system should be an indication of just how broken it is.

  4. @What?
    I don’t think you even read the post. But, the fact that I cannot “figure out” the system should be an indication of just how broken it is.

  5. I had what I thought was a rather interesting experience at the Apple Store at Yorkdale, Toronto. I had purchased a MacMini. Never even opened the box. So I decided that I would like to go notebook. Returned the unopened MacMini and exchanged it for a MacBook. I told them that I wanted an extra 2 Gigs of RAM installed. They installed the RAM at the store. I never touched the computer. It was never opened and still had the store seal. I decided that since I was spending this much, I should go MacBook Pro. When I came to exchange the computer, the store manager said the following: “Do you know that you cannot return opened RAM.” My answer was that I never opened the RAM. I asked for a computer with 4 Gigs of RAM and was given one. After the manager re-iterating the fact that she was doing me a favor by taking back the RAM, it was exchanged for the MacBook Pro. A bunch of other stuff went on that I won't repeat here. When I called Apple I was told the following. When you order online, the machine in modified for your order, but they take the view that they shipped a machine with 4 Gigs of RAM, so you can return a machine with 4 Gigs of RAM. So there is a difference in policy between online and retail. Watch out. The guy on the phone did say that as a general matter the store manager's issue was not something that would or should normally be an issue. I guess I just had a cranky manager (politically correct). The whole thing was really annoying. Here I am spending premium dollars for premium service and getting the same service that I would anywhere else. Poor training and poor management at the ground level seems to be a problem. The Canadian stores are not staffed with the same talent pool as the stores I have been in in the US. Just my experience.

  6. I agree that the apple store is less conventional than some of the other stores. When you have a question as you are browsing, if all the customer service reps are busy with customers, you really don’t know where to wait in line for your question. Of course they do a pretty good job of asking if you are finding everything ok, when they are not busy with other customers however.

  7. I agree with you totally about the system Apple has in place for checkout. I’d like to add that I went to one of their hiring seminars recently, and it was horrible. Not because there wasn’t enough clapping and hi-fiving. It was a bunch of little kids basically trying to be business people and grown-ups. Apple tries to sell this secretive “Everything is great, but we’ll tell you little of what’s going on” sort of philosophy. It sort of reminds me of getting paid in the dark. It’s not professional selling by any stretch of the imagination. Apple gets by selling seemingly cool and mostly well-functioning products. The rest is typical retail with even worse hogwash than I’ve ever seen. I’m not really old  if that’s what you’re thinking, but I would never work there. The managers and higher named positions within the store were even ‘dipshots’.  One manager type (the ‘high-five’ guy) talked about wanting food constantly for 2 hrs with pointing at his fat stomach as if to make it seem obvious as a joke. It was utterly ridiculous.

    This had to be the worst exposure to retail I have ever had. On a positive note the store was beautiful and very high tech looking…a sharp contrast to the children and drones inhabiting it (including myself for being an idiot enough to be there).

  8. I swear Steve Jobs watched the original Time Machine movie and was captivated by it so that he made his whole business model emulate it. The whole world is “Eloi” to this guy. (if you haven’t seen it, you should-pretty good retro movie-and you’ll see what I mean.

  9. I completely validate your observation that Apple store service is less than first rate. This morning I walked down to the Apple store in Pacific Centre here in Vancouver intending to arrive just at opening… 10 AM, to pick up an iPad. I got sidetracked in Holts (half price Diesel!) and ended up arriving at Apple closer to 11. It was busy but there were still more blue shirts than customers. I counted eleven staff conversing with each other. Sure they could have been conferring over customer needs but more likely they were catching each other up on the past weekend.

    So I used the “meet me here” function to summon someone. Twenty minutes later the only person I was able to make contact with was the wandering security guard, who merely scowled in return. I finally gave up, went back to Holt Renfrew and bought more half price Diesel. I’ll probably buy an iPad online though. Apple store? Forget it!

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