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How the Apple Store Lost Its Groove

Many Apple users believe that the Apple Store has declined in recent years, with employees who aren’t as knowledgeable as they used to be, and who wander around the store ignoring customers. That’s certainly what we heard when Apple announced that Angela Ahrendts was stepping down as head of Apple retail (see “TidBITS Reader Thoughts on the Ahrendts-Era Apple Stores,” 13 February 2019).

In a critical look at the state of the retail Apple Store business, Mark Gurman and Matthew Townsend of Bloomberg spoke with current and former employees, who anonymously shared similar sentiments. The gist is that the stores have become more about branding and less about serving customers. As the Apple Store has scaled up, the quality of employees has declined. Moves by Ahrendts to remove the Genius Bar and encourage online purchases made the in-store experience even more frustrating. While she succeeded in removing visible queues from the stores, they were replaced by a mob of frustrated people. It’s widely believed that Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s new retail chief, will bring back the Genius Bar and do more to segment the stores as they were originally designed.

While it’s easy to blame all of the Apple Store’s problems on Ahrendts, when Apple Store visionary Ron Johnson left Apple for JCPenney, Tim Cook made the mistake of replacing him with John Browett, who lasted less than ten months, and then left the position vacant for nearly two years until he brought in Ahrendts. That hire took place when Apple was trying to establish itself as a fashion company, and Ahrendts’s previous experience running luxury fashion retailer Burberry seemingly made her a good fit. The good news is that O’Brien was reportedly a big behind-the-scenes player in the Apple Store’s initial success, so insiders are optimistic about her new role.


In October 2018, Bloomberg published “The Big Hack,” which alleged that Chinese intelligence services had compromised America’s technology supply chain by inserting malicious chips into servers used in large corporate data centers. Apple and Amazon denied the allegations vehemently, and no other publication was able to confirm any of the details. Bloomberg hasn’t acknowledged the criticisms, issued a correction or retracted the article, which casts doubt on anonymously sourced pieces like this. For details, see “Apple Categorically Denies Businessweek’s China Hack Report,” 8 October 2018.

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Comments About How the Apple Store Lost Its Groove

Notable Replies

  1. My local store doesn’t have a Genius Bar, and I much prefer it to the old Genius Bar format. There are loads of tables, and the ‘geniuses’ come to you. The staff there are friendly and helpful, so that will make a difference to the experience. Overall, though, I agree that the Apple Store has become a pretty bland experience, so hopefully we will see things change.

  2. In our revamped store (6 months?) you check in then get to sit on wooden cubes. Feels like you’re in a pre-school. Not everyone has the body to do such. The store employees are sympathetic but only in quiet conversation.

    After the first interview you might get to go stand next to a table where they will come out and work with you.

    Sitting at a cube while carrying a 27" iMac is just plain stupid. Which was me at my last visit.

  3. Agree, whoever thought those wooden cubes would be great for customers to sit on, should be made to sit on one all day every day for a week.
    …then see what they think of them after doing so.

    Of course in all seriousness, the reason they use them, is because they’re adaptable, take little space, can be used for people waiting to be served or for event audience members.

    But they still suck for the user, regardless of Apple’s reasoning. :laughing:


    I do hope they better organise the space by areas, so people can stop being forced to bang into each other needlessly.
  4. Furniture for coffee shops and fast-food restaurants is often designed to encourage turnover rather than to be comfortable. So perhaps that was what Apple was going for with the cubes.

  5. But I’m there for a repair. And will be shown to a table after someone “qualifies” my problem.

    Sorry to me this is just nuts. And from what I can see everyone at the cubes is there waiting for the initial qualifying questions before they assign you to a table and actual genius. With maybe a few there for a seminar. As they juggle
    their coat, purse, backpack, whatever while trying to take part in the seminar or wait with their broken thing.

  6. Wooden cubes? Sheer bloody luxury!

    I recently had an appointment at my local Apple store. The person at the door said to “go stand over there and someone will be with you.” There was a mob of people standing around juggling various devices. All the seating was taken, so most of us had to stand – for over fifteen minutes in my case. There was an increasing volume of low murmuring coming from the crowd. There was no sign of “someone being with us.”

    Eventually, a guy in an official t-shirt came out and asked “does anybody here have an appointment?” At least twenty-five people raised their hands, and more would have if they hadn’t been trying to keep from dropping their computers. I think it was at least another hour (and, of course, well past my “appointment” time) before I even started talking to a Genius.

    Honestly, I have had far better customer service at the California DMV.

  7. raleighthings
    David Ross

        May 13
    

    But I’m there for a repair. And will be shown to a table after someone “qualifies” my problem.

    I find this especially aggravating since I have to click through a multitude of screens and answer a multitude of questions before I can even get to the page to set up an appointment. And then I can’t get an appointment for about a week even though I am semi retired and can be flexible about time.

    Sorry to me this is just nuts. And from what I can see everyone at the cubes is there waiting for the initial qualifying questions before they assign you to a table and actual genius.

    And why does someone who already filled out the online form when they booked the Genius appointment have to go through the rigamarole about what’s wrong at the door? Can’t the door monitor just check to verify the appointment?

    I think that in order to get it’s groove back Apple needs do get rid of the Groves. Restore the Genius Bars, or even better, have a designated Genius area + Bar where someone who invested a lot of money in overpriced Apple hardware can wait without having hoards of people tripping over their iMac. Even better still would be to have enough Geniuses, as Apple did in days of old when knights were bold, and Geniuses that actually knew something about anything Apple related. And it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 days to wait for an appointment.

  8. I can’t agree more with @MMTalker. If you already entered all the information into Apple’s system, why shouldn’t the person dealing with your case be fully informed when thy get to you? Instead you have to start all over again.

    Also, having to wait for several days for a reasonable slot (no, 10am on a Tue doesn’t work for most people who have to earn a salary) is just silly. Apple can do a lot to improve the Store experience. If they really care, that is.

  9. I have a flexible schedule and can make 10am on a Tuesday, yet I still have to wait 2 weeks. I’m not sure what happened to the stores but they are nuts these days.

    I used to be able to go in mid-morning without an appointment and be seen quickly.

    Diane

  10. Apple became very popular. And the stores crowded along with that. Their popularity with customers is a great thing. But you can’t rest on your laurels. When you get that many more customers you need more staff. And when you can’t fit that staff and the customers anymore, you need to build more stores. IMHO that’s where they lost it.

    Take Berkeley. Cal has something like 40k students. Most of them have at least one Apple device if not several. But there is just one modest Apple store here. Sure, there’s more in San Francisco and there’s one in Emeryville and in Walnut Creek, but by and large there’s one joint for pretty much the entire university. The place is perpetually packed.

    Open up more venues, reduce the crowding, and the experience will likely get much better again. My suspicion is that Apple secretly likes the stores crowded so people passing by get the impression that’s where everybody wants to go (just like they like constrained inventory at launch).

  11. They want you to sign up for Joint Venture. For $500 per year you can almost always make an appointment 30 minutes out. I see this all the time when the regular queue it days out. They WILL fit you in.

    But $500 per year just for that is not for everyone.

  12. My little anecdote:
    The battery on my 2013 MacBook air was finally giving out, with lots of indications. So I’m presently only 60 miles from an Apple store, so I walked in expecting to drop off my Mac and pick it up later. Boy was I wrong. First I had to have an appointment to have a genius confirm I needed a new battery. That took days, so another 120 mile round trip. I showed up, checked in, started getting text messages about losing my appointment because I wasn’t checked in. Finally someone came over wondering why I was hanging there, and she determined that I’d never been checked in. Finally got to the ‘genius’ who looked at the battery health in the about box and agreed it needed changing, and told me it would be several days. What?? I expected a quick repair. Another 120 mile round trip.
    While waiting around I looked at the new MacBooks on the tables, and decided I wouldn’t buy any of them. I don’t know who Apple thinks they are serving, but its not me.
    /s Happy Apple customer 1984 to 2019. Good long run.

  13. I live near State College, PA, where my wife is a professor at Penn State. It too has 40k students at this campus. The nearest actual Apple Store is in Lancaster, about 100 miles away. (There’s an Apple Authorized dealer in town for repairs and such.) I’ve been to various Apple Stores while traveling, but never bought anything more than a cable at one. So all of these complaints are amusing, but my guess is that they’re irrelevant to a significant fraction of TidBITS readers.

  14. In some malls I’ve been to there are also Microsoft stores that tend to have bigger footprints than the Apple Stores and are also located more prominently. They are always almost empty, with almost all the visitors a bunch of young kids playing video games that look like their parents parked them there so they can shop at other stores without having to deal with nagging.

    Apple must be doing some things right.

  15. I’ve been a Mac guy since the '80s… arrived at dawn to be first in line when the Apple store opened in Charlotte in 2002…I still have the souvenir T shirt they were handing out.

    The last few years, I’ve pretty much experienced everything crappy described above.

    2 of my last 3 visits to my local (Chula Vista) Apple store have been annoying. In one case, the “Genius” told me that a particular monitor adapter I wanted “didn’t exist”. I went next door to Best Buy and bought one.

    I’m sitting here with 4 Apple products, I know more about my Macs and the associate software then most of the help in the stores. So unless I just want to go play with the latest product release, there’s no good reason for me to visit an Apple store anymore.

  16. LOL! I’m reading your complaints and also find it amusing. I read other lists like Nextdoor AND they are complaining about long lines at the gas station and people cutting. Geez! Do we have it so good that we can’t BYPASS these nuisances, breathe and count our blessings!!! Oh! No! Now I’m complaining…,

  17. Adam, those wooden cubes give people hemorrhoids. Going to an Apple Store used to be energizing. Now it’s an exhausting experience. Best to know exactly what you need or want before stepping into the chaos on the floor.

  18. Microsoft stores… what are they?

    Yours sincerely, Europe (lol!)

    Apple must be doing some things right.

    The difference is Apple has vastly more devices that need servicing or dealing with; hence are busy.
    MS is still largely a software company, that sells a handful of devices itself while the majority are from third-parties.
    So comparing one with the other is a rather chalk and cheese comparison.

  19. Do what us Brits do and form an orderly queue.
    …if someone even tries to jump, they’ll be met with a lot of other queuers aggravation… people huffing, coughing, mumbling under their breath; really serious things like that! So basically nothing will happen. :slight_smile:

  20. jimthing

        May 15
    

    Microsoft stores… what are they?

    Yours sincerely, Europe (lol!)

    The difference is Apple has vastly more devices that need servicing or dealing with; hence are busy.

    At least here in this the US, one of the big reasons for Apple’s revival after the prognosis of certain death was Apple Stores and the rapid, efficient and effective Genius Bars, as well as an excellent and peerless product experience, superior sales help, and fun training and entertainment. I posted a link not long ago about Samsung opening two test stores that sound like clones of Apple Stores, except they will not sell direct to consumers. They are emphasizing rapid service at a time when Apple Stores have been getting quite a bit of bad publicity.

    MS is still largely a software company, that sells a handful of devices itself while the majority are from third-parties.

    The MS Stores feature lots of hardware from many PC manufacturers, as well as Xbox and controller models, Surface, mice, keyboards, whatever they call their smart watch/fitness bands (and those made by licensees), whatever they call Cortana speakers and smart devices, Hololens and other stuff. They’ve got plenty of stuff but not many visitors.

    So comparing one with the other is a rather chalk and cheese comparison.

    It’s more like apples to azure.

  21. Assuming that a lot of students use Apple hardware, it would be interesting to know what most of them do when it needs servicing. Do they all go to the Apple Authorized dealer, and does that dealer have the capacity to deal with them all smoothly? Or do people send their hardware via the postal service (or UPS or something) to a service center?
    While I agree that the specifics of inconveniences in physical Apple Stores may not be interesting to someone for whom no Apple Store is conveniently located, the general topic of how aftercare is provided is potentially interesting to any user of Apple hardware.
    Perhaps an interesting sub-topic here would be alternatives to using physical Apple Stores. I live 100km from the nearest store and would like to know of other options and their pros and cons.

  22. I know my wife has used the Authorized place a couple of times for repairs. By all accounts they’re pretty good. The only time I went there was when my daughter wanted a keyboard cover for the MacBook she used then.

    I almost always order things (many things) from the online Apple Store. The one time I needed a PowerBook serviced they sent a box and I shipped it off (UPS, I think) and the turnaround was fairly quick. My main machine these days is a cheese grater MacPro (2010 model) so whatever repairs/additions needed I can do myself (so far; if it dies I don’t know what I’ll do), but I haven’t had any need for any actual repairs on any Apple device in quite a while.

    I don’t spend much time on campus at all, but I think the campus store also runs a computer sales place where you can get the usual educational discounts for various manufacturers including Apple. I don’t know if they do any repairs.

  23. Many larger school districts and universities/colleges have in house authorized Apple service setups so they can do many types of repairs in and out of warranty with parts sourced directly from Apple.

    Not sure about Penn State. I thought they did (I go to a conference there once a year) but based on Paul’s comments, maybe not.

  24. ricklavin2001
    Rick

        May 16
    

    Assuming that a lot of students use Apple hardware, it would be interesting to know what most of them do when it needs servicing. Do they all go to the Apple Authorized dealer, and does that dealer have the capacity to deal with them all smoothly? Or do people send their hardware via the postal service (or UPS or something) to a service center?

    I know of some larger colleges in the US that sell Apple hardware and accessories in their bookstores, which will also ship out stuff to Apple for repair.

    While I agree that the specifics of inconveniences in physical Apple Stores may not be interesting to someone for whom no Apple Store is conveniently located, the general topic of how aftercare is provided is potentially interesting to any user of Apple hardware.

    However much I have moaned and groaned about the current service in Apple Stores, I’m still glad that they exist. I’ve heard a lot of worse horror stories from PC and Android users trying to get repairs and dealing with horrible experiences with shipping and receiving, often having to ship back and forth due to unsatisfactory repairs. Many years ago in the early days of MacBooks when Apple Stores were probably just a gleam in Steve Jobs’s eye, my husband was convinced by a MacMall salesperson to pay for their repair service rather than Apple Care. When he did have to ship it out it not only took over three weeks to get it repaired, they shipped someone else’s MacBook instead. My husband’s was password protected, but the other guy’s was not. It took another week to complete the switch, and MacMall tried to stick us with the postage.

    Perhaps an interesting sub-topic here would be alternatives to using physical Apple Stores. I live 100km from the nearest store and would like to know of other options and their pros and cons.

    Friends who live in a rural area have taken their Macs to Best Buy and didn’t have complaints other than they wished they had an Apple Store within a reasonable driving distance.

  25. One of my cousins worked for many years as a financial analyst for the bookstore company the NY City University system contracted out to. It was, and I’m sure still is, one of the largest among the many companies colleges cut deals with. In fact, almost all colleges do. I’ll bet these companies cut deals with Apple for servicing their customers as well.

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