updated 11:15 am EDT, Wed August 29, 2012
Shifts some training, pre-buying questions to web site
Amid reports that Apple is looking at new ways to make the retail Apple Stores more profitable, the company has added a new "online training" feature to its store website, bringing "live chat" abilities along with a guided tour of the online store, Genius scheduling, or the ability to request a phone call from a product specialist. The program launched today in the UK, Germany, Spain and Brazil, but has not yet been rolled out in the US.
The move may help ease overcrowding at Apple's retail store Genius Bars, where the company is seeing more than 50,000 sessions per day. If successful, the program would move easily-answerable pre- and post-purchase iOS device inquiries to a virtual location more convenient to many customers who may not live close to an Apple retail store. It may also help troubleshoot devices prior to scheduling a Genius Bar appointment, for example if a problem turns out to be simply a software or user issue rather than a hardware fault.
Apple's Genius Bar and the service customers receive was recently cited as a key factor in the high satisfaction rates among customers who had problems with their devices. NPD Group's survey found an astonishing 90 percent of Genius Bar visitors rated the service as excellent, while 31 percent said their impression of Apple had improved as a result of their Genius Bar experience -- exceptionally high given that customers generally only visit the Genius Bar if they have a problem or defective unit.
The service is currently only available for iPad and iPhone owners or potential buyers, and offers to help set up the devices for new purchasers so that they can sync with their computer, set up email and accomplish other "right out of box" tasks to get them started. The service is of course free of charge.