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Apple Stores tightly controlled, suffering growing pains

updated 12:15 pm EDT, Wed June 15, 2011

Expose explains retail chain's inner workings

While Apple Stores have been extremely successful, they are very closely controlled, and may be encountering problems as the chain grows ever bigger, according to a Wall Street Journal expose. The paper's information comes from interviews with current and former Apple workers, as well as confidential training manuals and a recording of a store meeting. One reason relatively little is known about how Apple Stores operate is because the company imposes tight lips on retail clerks, banning them not only from discussing product rumors but also writing anything about the company online, or even admitting product defects to customers before corporate has acknowledged them, the Journal's sources say. Restrictions are also placed on language, such that employees may be forbidden from correcting product pronunciations and required to use terms like "as it turns out" instead of a more natural "unfortunately."

Sales clerks are however taught not to push sales on customers, and in fact have no commissions or quotas as a rule, although they are asked to sell service packages with hardware and are retrained or moved to another position if they don't sell enough. Apple workers are instead supposed to solve problems, regardless of whether or not it moves product. "Your job is to understand all of your customers' needs -- some of which they may not even realize they have," one manual reads.

Manuals indicate that the company's official "steps of service" fall under the acronym APPLE: "Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome," "Probe politely to understand all the customer's needs," "Present a solution for the customer to take home today," "Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns," and "End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return." If a customer is irritated or upset, clerks are told to "Listen and limit your responses to simple reassurances that you are doing so. 'Uh-huh' 'I understand,' etc."

Layout is another carefully-managed aspect of Apple Stores. Sources say that it was former Gap president Millard Drexler -- who joined Apple's board in 1999, and advised on retail strategy -- who came up with the notion of a prototype store in a warehouse on Cupertino's Bubb Road, where Apple figured out how to display products in a way that showed how they could be used rather than simply organizing them by category. Drexler is partly responsible for the hiring of departing retail VP Ron Johnson, who is said to have devised the idea of a Genius Bar for technical support.

The hiring process for Apple Stores reportedly involves two sets of interviews, during which people are grilled about leadership, problem-solving skills and their enthusiasm about Apple products. Subsequent training may be intense, with classes matched by shadowing other workers on the show floor for two weeks or more, during which newcomers can't interact with customers independently. Genius staff require extra training and certification, and are then tested on a regular basis.

In US stores workers are paid between $9 and $15 an hour for sales, and up to $30 as a Genius. The Genius pay may be easily deserved, as support appointments can often be triple-booked, and opportunities to advance to a corporate job are rare. Some former workers say they left when they realized a corporate promotion was unlikely.

Some other tidbits revealed in the expose are that some outlets now have dedicated "briefing rooms," and that during a recent retail managers' meeting Johnson called the new Joint Venture business services one of the "pillars for retail for the next decade." All is not rosy, however, as some ex-workers say that the quality of store employees has been declining. The problem is allegedly the scale of the chain, which needs more and more people yet is finding proportionately fewer of the diehard Apple fans on which the company's retail service has normally depended.

by MacNN Staff



  1. facebook_Ben

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Jun 2011


    Where is the link to WSJ?

    The first sentence of this article desperately needs to link to the WSJ article, even it is subscription-only. You're using their work -- make it easy to find.

  1. ggirton

    Joined: Dec 1969



    too cheap to subscribe to the WSJ, and too lazy to read it even if he did.

  1. bleee

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Die hard fan don't want to work retail, not surpri

    "The problem is allegedly the scale of the chain, which needs more and more people yet is finding proportionately fewer of the diehard Apple fans on which the company's retail service has normally depended."

    How are you going to afford the latest and greatest Apple products working for Apple retail? Also no chance or promotion to corporate is demoralizing.

  1. B9bot

    Joined: Dec 1969


    No genius gets $30 an hour

    No genius gets $30 an hour

  1. Foe Hammer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Retention & Promotion

    Surely Apple can figure out a way to retain/promote top people in its retail stores, be they sales staff, trainers, geniuses or whatever. If the forewarning about quality of staff is declining is true, that's ultimately going to have an impact on both image and the bottom line. There's got to be a need for quality control at all levels plus opportunities for "train the trainers" (gene the geniuses?), etc. Why lose that kind of knowledge PLUS experience? The store manuals are undoubtedly very good, but they'll never replace actual experience. One of the first things I'd do (presuming it's not already being done) is a cross-pollenization effort: do things like employees exchanges e.g., have two people with the same job exchange store locations for a week or two (I'm not talking about a person in Glendale exchanging with a person in Pasadena ... I'm talking about a person in Glendale exchanging with a person in Syracuse or a person in Boise exchanging with a person in San Antonio - not to mention the international exchange possibilities.)

  1. facebook_S. Jeff

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Jun 2011


    My last experience

    Yeah, I'm still upset with the Apple Store. I once went in to buy a powerbrick for my Powerbook G4, an off the shelf product. It took me 1 hour to get someone to ring me up. They were all to busy selling computers and iPods. I got shuffled around to several different employees, one with an orange shirt and 2 others with black or green shirts (it was a while back, I don't remember). Needless to say I let the last employee have it, he apologized, but didn't say much else.

    Back in the day, there was a dedicated cashier at my local Apple Store, but over the past few years they have the "walking cashier" or the person with the credit card reader. I guess they assumed it would speed things up, but in my case it almost made me go to Best Buy.

    A few days later I get a call from the region manager for Nor-Cal stores. She offered her most sincere apologies, and said it was a common issue that is in the process of being addressed.

    I haven't been back to an Apple Store to make a purchase ever since. I bought my iPad 2 at Best Buy. The only time I go back to the Apple Store is for the Genius Bar and they've always been great. They repaired my out of warranty Macbook Pro for free, he wrote on the service write-up that it was still under warranty.

  1. Grendelmon

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Sounds like a lot to ask for

    ...for such low paying jobs.

  1. vallette

    Joined: Dec 1969


    facebook_S. Jeff

    So let me get this straight. You had a single bad experience at an Apple Store, got an apology from the cashier, a phone call and apology from the regional manager(!), and your experience at the Genius Bar has always been great but you've never been back for a purchase? Wow, you're a tough customer and likely one that's such a pain in the a** they'd rather you not return.

    Comment buried. Show
  1. facebook_Clarence

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Jun 2011


    Training video

    Have you guys seen the Apple Store training video? It's called Douchebags by Design.

  1. Foe Hammer

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I've Actually Seen That Training Video!

    It's an efficiency training video. It teaches new Apple employees how to quickly tell Douchebags like Clarenchy from the real customers in the store.

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