Secret to success inside Apple’s retail juggernaut

“Steve Jobs turned Apple Inc. into the world’s most valuable technology company with high-tech products like the iPad and iPhone. But one anchor of Apple’s success is surprisingly low tech: its chain of brick-and-mortar retail stores,” Yukari Iwatani Kane and Ian Sherr report for The Wall Street Journal.

“A look at confidential training manuals, a recording of a store meeting and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees reveal some of Apple’s store secrets,” Kane and Sherr report. “They include: intensive control of how employees interact with customers, scripted training for on-site tech support and consideration of every store detail down to the pre-loaded photos and music on demo devices.”

Kane and Sherr report, “More people now visit Apple’s 326 stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Walt Disney Co.’s four biggest theme parks last year… Apple’s annual retail sales per square foot have soared to $4,406—excluding online sales, according to investment bank Needham & Co. Add in online sales, which include iTunes, and the number jumps to $5,914. That’s far higher than the sales per square foot and online sales of jeweler Tiffany & Co. ($3,070), luxury retailer Coach Inc. ($1,776), and electronics retailer Best Buy Co. ($880), according to estimates.”

Read more in the full article here.


    1. Just imagine the increase of traffic in the stores if you could (politely) hack into the video feed for all the macs in the store and continuously loop monkey boy’s dance routine. My personal favorite is “Developers, developers, developers”. Hmmm… I feel like watching that one again now.

  1. Among the number of 1,500+ testimonies on the petition site, there are many stories of how MacStore geniuses give in-store tutorials on matte-screens because they say the can’t tolerate the glare, or Mac geniuses who agree that glossy screens are not their preference. I’m sure all that is not scripted 🙂

  2. “More people now visit Apple’s 326 stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Walt Disney Co.’s four biggest theme parks last year”

    Yes, but it cost a lot less to enter an Apple store. Now the cost when you exit the store, well . . .

  3. The stores are great and I like to visit, but man it sounds anal and micro-managed to the extreme to me.

    Almost like a McDonalds, every detail controlled.

    Damn glad I don’t work there.

    1. Unfortunately, that micromanagement is the difference between a consistently positive customer experience vs. leaving it to chance, where more employees will do the wrong thing.

      It’s like Enterprise–the people there are faux-friendly, but it’s still a lot better than going to Budget or Alamo, where you leave feeling like you need a shower.

    2. There’s a bit more to it than scripted ‘control’ according to my daughter who works in a London Apple Store. She has a psychology degree but prefers to work for Apple??
      Think of it as proven ways to keep potential buyers ‘on message’ where Apple can sell their strengths and not get bogged down in pissing contests versus pcs. Although quite capable herself she and other staff prefer to steer ‘those’ customers to the resident geek who will quickly demolish their misconceptions about Macs – in the friendliest possible way of course, and THEN sell them a machine. They are the most difficult sale after all.
      She would maintain that the published guidelines are correctly aimed at keeping the interaction with Joe public ‘nice and easy’ and at piquing interest in Macs rather than the big sell.
      Again, nothing startlingly different to other successful sales strategies, but it does rely on everyone being on message and none confrontational.
      As her father, I can safely say she has improved socially since starting work there and the surest sign that the workplace is doing the right things is that they socialise together too.

    3. What is so wrong with managing one’s own affairs?

      Wake up, if you don’t manage your own life do you think you can be successful? If you want to be a successful doctor, architect, artiste, etc you have to have to micromanage yourself.

  4. When you think of what it was like to buy an Apple product before the retail stores, it almost seems like a crazy myth. You basically had two choices. One: go to a computer retailer, find the corner in the back where they shoved the Macs, and ignore the salesperson as he desperately tries to sell you a PC instead. Or two: head to one of the few independent Apple retailers, which tended to be dirty, incompetently run stores, staffed with arrogant jerks who treated you like crap because they knew you had nowhere else to go.


    1. I don’t know what independent Apple retailer *you* went to, but here in Huntsville, AL, MacResource Center has always delivered as an excellent retailer with a polished image and well-informed and well-mannered staff for over 20 years. There’s also an Apple store just up the street in Bridge Street Towne Center and it’s a wonderful store. But I still prefer to divert my attention to MacResource Center. Perhaps the fact that they are still in business speaks for itself.

  5. Hate to be a stick in the mud, but I think Apple’s retail sucks, at least at some locations. Yesterday, for example, I went prepared to come home with a 27″ iMac. Online, it says iMacs come with either a trackpad or a magic mouse – YOUR CHOICE. I choose the magic trackpad. At the store? No go. Excuses about SKUs, packaging, and other bull crap. They said all the iMacs come packaged with only magic mice. They did say that I could also buy a trackpad. Well, no sh*t sherlock. Obnoxious, smug and infuriating. Why would a customer give a sh*t about SKUs and packaging? They have trackpads in the store. What is the problem? Why don’t they stock half the iMacs (or some %) with trackpads if they are already packed and can not be opened (which is bullsh*t also). End result: No new iMac for me yesterday. Now, I have to wait for the shipment from Apple online. Totally ridiculous. I was not asking for special configs (or so I thought). So they whole affair soured me from Apple retail. They have some awfully smug staff too. Almost like they were happy to NOT sell me the iMac!! Wow. Looking forward to the new chief fixing that kind of bull crap.
    By the way, this was at Apple in Syracuse. Same thing occurred at both Best Buy locations too. Seems like Apple would be a better retail experience than buying Apple at Best Buy. But in this case – no difference and blue shirts all around. (greenish maybe in Apple’s case).

    1. I have no easily accessible Apple store to compare to, but sounds like a good opportunity for a polite letter to the store manager, and to Apple Corporate, about the situation. I suspect that Apple would much rather know that there is a problem to be solved, rather than just hear that people are complaining about the store. Give it a shot, I’m sure that if there are others having such problems at that store, and they will thank you for helping address it.


    2. I have also had terrible experiences from our local apple store. For example the following things have happened to me at the store:
      1) I have gone into store to buy a simple item and cannot check out without first giving my name to someone carrying around an Ipad. I would like to get the item off the wall and go to check out at a register. There is not one. Someone has to check you out on a portable modded ipod/iphone. Also, you have to wait for that person to be free to check you out.
      2) I have tried to buy various items over the last year only to be told by staff to just order the items online through apple?!
      3) The staff is not knowledgeable about the apple products. They are not accurate relating to the specs of the items, they are not knowledgeable about the operating system, nor are they knowledgeable about technology in general. I do not think they should work at a technology store. They are better suited for a cashier job at local grocery store since they know about the same information relating to the products their store sells.
      4) On numerous occasions, I have gone to the store only to find out that the product I am looking for is out of stock or unavailable.
      In summary, the apple retail experience is a terrible experience. I believe if the products were not great, the store would be doing terrible. As long as Apple is producing great products – the store will thrive whether the products are sold on the side of the road like a lemon-aide stand or in a retail location full of incoherent, no-techknowledge-ass-clowns.

      1. Your opinion and experiences are not the norm. With respect to (1), you have to check out somewhere. Why is checking out with a portable device any worse than standing in line at a regular store? With respect to (2), I assume that the store did not stock those items for retail sale, or they would have sold them to you. What did you expect them to do? Crap them out on demand? With respect to (3), Apple cannot fully staff every store with experts. The fact that you know more than the staff that you encountered is not necessarily a big issue. But I agree that the information that they do provide should be accurate. With respect to (4), that happens. You could try calling ahead to ensure that the item you desire is in stock. Or you can drive there and take your chances.

        In summary, I don’t believe that your opinion reflects that of most Apple Store patrons. Perhaps you need to go to the Attitude Store and trade in the bad one that your received.

    3. Getting the Magic Trackpad is a configurable option in the Apple Store online. When you select a configurable option, the order goes to the factory for that configuration and it is built and packaged in accordance with your option selections. Apple doesn’t built x numbers with MT and y numbers with more memory and z numbers with MT and more memory, then try to guess how many to send where. It would be stupid and Apple is not that.

      You were asking for the store to open a box with a Magic Mouse and substitute a Magic Trackpad, for which they would have no retail packaging, in other words, it would be trash. You may expect stores to do that for you, but you should expect a life of disappointment.

      1. The trackpad/mouse option is not just shown on the online config page when you order, it is mentioned prominently in the iMac ad online and does not say you have to order online to get a trackpad. They act like it is no big deal. And you know what? It is no big deal. It is not like changing memory, HD, etc. It is EITHER a mouse or a trackpad. They SHOULD be packing a certain % of each for each store if they are so unwilling to open a box and give you a trackpad instead of the mouse. Know what else? They give big discounts for students who purchase so they must have some margin to swallow a retail packaging for the customers that want that if they have no other option. Telling customers about SKUs and packaging is bull crap. And I forgot to mention something that happened with my pervious iMac… The wired mighty mouse that came with it crapped out (kept firing the side buttons on its own). It was still under warranty – I had the iMac for maybe 2 months. Went to the Apple store. My experience? They REFUSED to give me a replacement Mighty Mouse. I said but you have all those on the shelf? Oh yeah, they are a different SKU. I said so? They said they have no way of doing that. Doing what? Replacing a little mouse that is defective? I had to call Apple Care from in the store and they had to SHIP me a Mighty Mouse. Ridiculous. Ridiculous for a store full of equipment, highly priced equipment perhaps, and Apple geniuses. Ridiculous. I have found the staff to be smug and passive aggressive. Seems you have to be “alternative” to work there. Alternative to giving a crap.
        @kingmel: I read your comment to @mdibs79. Sounded like you have never been to an Apple store as what you said made no sense. Sorry for playing dude.

  6. @ kingmel- my post summarizes why I dislike the apple retail “experience”. In short, Apple products are great and the store is not. 7 years ago, when Apple was not where it is today no one was raving about their lame stores. Your post personally criticizes my “attitude”. So, since you are trying to elicit a juvinille response- you got one: the jerk store called and they’re running out of you!
    @ quiviran- you like apple do not grasp the concept that the iMac could be boxed with just a keyboard and then at the store the customer chooses between a mouse or trackpad. This is what you can do online and it’s heavily advertised. There is no logical reason as a consumer that this can not be done in store. Apple is penny pinching here, coupled with the poor retail “experience” could cause a backlash.

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