Apple Retail Stores suffer from sameness with no head of retail for 10 months and counting

“Apple Inc.’s search for a new head of its retail stores is dragging into its 10th month, and the effects are showing: The company recently reported its first drop in store sales in at least four years,” Ian Sherr and Joann S. Lublin report for The Wall Street Journal.

“In 2001, Apple changed the retail game when it threw open the doors to the Apple Store’s sleek and bright, modern interiors—completely different from electronics warehouses of the day stuffed with accessories and cords. The stores were revered as temples for all things Apple, and destinations for early adopters,” Sherr and Lublin report. “But today, both Apple’s products and the format of its retail stores have become commonplace… ‘You had different products and services emerging almost every quarter under [original Apple Retail head Ron Johnson],” said Dane Taylor, a 36-year-old who worked at one of Apple’s stores in Virginia for five-and-a-half years, until December 2010. ‘Since he left, the stores have been basically the same from a customer-service point of view.'”

“As the high-tech market leader seeks to regain the luster of its once groundbreaking retail strategy, the company has been reinstating spending and reversing policy decisions that were unpopular with customers during the six-month tenure of John Browett, who had been brought in to run Apple’s stores in April 2012. Tim Cook, the company’s chief executive, has been heading up the stores since announcing Mr. Browett’s departure in October,” Sherr and Lublin report. “Apple’s search for a replacement, handled by recruiters Egon Zehnder International, has gone slowly, people familiar with the matter said, and the company has yet to settle on a finalist after interviewing several external candidates… Apple doesn’t consider internal candidates to be an option, according to a third person familiar with the matter.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Back up the Brinks truck into Ron’s driveway and don’t move it until he sign back up. Give him 10 years of worth of incentives and make it a priority for him to groom a small group of successors. Problem solved. Next!

42 Comments

    1. There’s a funny saying in chess circles “if you don’t know what to do, move a pawn”. Some times it works sometimes it doesn’t.

      The point is that if you don’t know what to do with your position, you’re gonna screw up no matter what you decide to do. I believe that could be the case with Mr Cook and the Apple stores; I would say try to find out the right thing before doing something wrong. Of course they need to do that ASAP.

  1. Steve had a knack for hiring the right people. A long list of Apple luminaries attests to that.

    Tim, on the other hand, seems to have a record of hiring kackhanded turds like Browett who singlehandedly brought down the British electronics chain Dixons into the gutter.

    Perhaps he’s waiting for the right opportunity to hire the head of PepsiCo into the retail position. Or waiting for another dimwitted British genius parent who can’t police their credit card account to take over.

    1. BLN, you just undermined one of your statements with another. Steve Jobs had such a knack for hiring the right people, yet he hired John Scully?

      I feel bad for TC. Many people are comparing him to a fairly revisionist memory of Jobs. Steve had many failures and screwups along the way that people seem to want to forget

      1. Can’t forget about Steve’s buddy, Eric Schmidt, on the Apple Board of Directors one day, the next day holding a bloody knife on the steps of the Roman Senate

  2. All a successful retail operation needs 3 things:
    1. great products,
    2. A beautiful and exciting enviroent
    3. A happy enthusiastic knowledgeable loyal staff.

    All APPL needs is to work just a little harder on #3. It won’t take much. Just great pay and great training; the rest comes naturally.

  3. Another day, another attack article on Apple. It’s not enough that Apple revolutionized retail, visually with stunning architecture, with merchandising, with its Genius Bar, by doing away with the traditional cash register counter, by giving customers the power to shop, check out and pay unattended with their iPhone or iPad, and more. It’s not enough that Apple retail stores generate more profit per square foot than any other retail establishment in the world. And it’s apparently not acceptable to raise the bar on who should fill the position, and not settle for mediocrity.

    Nope. The powers that be at the Wall $treet Journal (owned by tabloid king Rupert Murdoch, who has had his panties in a knot with Apple since The Daily crashed and burned) must be satisfied. Far be it for the WSJ to look at its own faults; it’s too busy pointing fingers and poking sticks at Apple. All it takes is to find some disgruntled Gen-X failed ex-Apple Store employee to generate a cheap-shot damning quote. That’s what drive-by hack journalists do.

    Journalism at its finest. Not.

    1. It’s rather amusing when the whole tech economy seems to be slowing down, they’re blaming the sameness of Apple retail as the leading cause of Apple’s decline in product sales. These people sure manage to nitpick at every thing Apple does or doesn’t do. I doubt there’s anything a new head of retail could do except hire pickpockets to steal customers wallets and put the money in a cash repository.

      Ron Johnson was pretty good at Apple, but an utter flopsicle at J.C. Penney. Without great products available or customers not willing to spend money, even a retail genius might have a hard time selling as many products as expected.

      However, even from my narrow point of view, it seems the entire Apple franchise has been on a nine-month sabbatical. Still, this guy should have gone into the Microsoft retail stores and find out why they didn’t sell Surface RTs and more upgrade packages of Windows 8. Does anyone even know who’s in charge of Microsoft retail stores? Or even cares?

  4. The stores in my area – there are three of them – all now in danger of becoming (like the rest of the company) ordinary. So many useless clerks – can’t answer basic questions but can slide the plastic through the check out gadget really well. Geniuses are still pretty good but even they aren’t the caliber they once were. Headed South day by day. Thanks for the great leadership, Tim – you are a tribute to your useless, bought off board of directors.

      1. Mr. hawk1 – I am not a troll. But, you ARE a lemming. What is it about the reality of my post – and several others like it on this string – that you can deny? If you have been in an Apple Retail Store and found it to be as customer friendly and staffed by knowledgable staff as it once was, then you have found the exception. Like everything else under Tim Cook’s “leadership” the stores have become ordinary.

        1. It is a gross exaggeration to say the Apple stores “have become ordinary”. They are far, far from it. Have they lost a bit of their luster? Absolutely. However they’re NOT “ordinary”. To say this is just an inflammatory statement that gets you nowhere with any truly rational person.

          You do, however, seem to want to lay everything negative at the feet of Tim Cook, and I can’t recall a single time that you’ve praised Cook for any of Apple’s successes since he took over (and there HAVE been a few). Cook is not directly responsible for what happens in the stores. Ultimately responsible, maybe, but directly? Absolutely not.

          The worst thing for which you can lay blame to Cook with regard to the Apple Stores is that he has not found an effective leader for them. I believe everyone agrees Cook needs to devote more time and energy to this task.

          silverhawk1 is an avid Apple fan, but s/he is not a lemming. If you’ve followed his/her posts you’d know that they are sometimes rather harsh against Apple. It’s just that when you jump on the same old “everything bad is Cook’s fault and the board’s fault” bandwagon people start calling you a troll.

          You seem to extoll the attitude that Apple and it’s most senior staff and directors can’t get anything right. That is a typical stance of a troll. Thus you get tagged with that label. If it is not the correct label, then maybe you should re-evaluate your stance or style.

          Many, many years ago someone told me an analogy:
          When one person calls you an ass, you can blow it off.
          When two people call you an ass, you should maybe think about it a bit.
          When three people call you an ass, you should investigate the prices of saddles.

          Don’t want to be called a troll? Change your presentation here.

          1. You probably have a point, Mr/Ms Shadow but I don’t know how else to emphasize the decline in the once great company nor the collapse of its share price other than point directly to the person most responsible. That he reports to a board of directors who keep selling their shares and accumulating unimaginable personal wealth leaves me with the certainty that they don’t care what is happening to the company or the investment held by their shareholders. There is absolutely NOTHING going on in Cupertino to excite consumers. The fact that the company has great and, to us at least, very familiar products means as others discover what we already know, Apple keeps on making profits and the directors point to that and say, “so why should we do anything different other than to support our CEO” when, in fact, their CEO is basically a failure when you compare what is happening now to what used to distinguish the company from all others. There’s nothing distinguished anymore and that is the very definition of ordinary. Apple, its stores, and everything about it is today ordinary. All it does is tweak, reinvent, change the look (to an incredible awful, sissified result) and make promises of “great products” in the works and then show us very, very little of anything even new much less exciting. The legacy of what once was is as far as you need look to see how right I am in that conclusion.

          2. There is no right or wrong. Everyone has an opinion. There is no “we” here. It’s a forum. People express their opinions. Your opinions are no more important than his. He seems to be no troll whereas you certainly are a fanboy. Defensive and paranoid if someone isn’t extolling the great virtues of all those things done by those in Cupertino. Try being more objective. That means taking the good with the bad. Not always trying to convince everyone that you are right all the time. And that Apple does everything perfectly. Every fucking time. Grow up. No one and no company is perfect.

  5. The authors of the Grand Narrative, never shy of piling on, flush with cash and favours from the disloyal opposition, and sniffing the winds like the scavengers they are, hammer out more and more episodes in the epic morality tale of Apple—the upstart Pied Piper who uncannily assembled a growing army of followers through the world-wrecking practice of creating a sublime experience, unhealthy in its worrisome addiction to excellence and damaging to entire industries, ruinous to the established order, troubling to cartels, perplexing to forecasters, inconvenient to sellers of junk. More articles! More!

    The desperation seeps between the lines like a slowly spreading stain.

  6. A significant part of the problem is that when the Apple stores opened they were staffed by eager Apple fans — often people who used Macs themselves on a daily basis for many years before the store opened. Call them Apple fanatics, fanbois or sheeple or whatever. They were loyal Apple users and truly knew how to use Apple products at their best.

    Today, those people have largely moved on. Today, new store employees are just a likely to use non Apple products as Apple products in their day-to-day personal lives. Few of them know in detail how Apple products work. Virtually none of them can say, “Apple has had voice activated commanding and voice response as part of its standard operating system since August 1993 and it was often referred to as Casper. Siri has been evolving for over 20 years. Apple is doing it right. Apple is not slapping something together to fill a check box.” So, when a person comes into the store and says that Windows or Android has some need new feature (such as their voice interaction software), the employee does not have the background to give examples of how Apple has been working on (and in many cases shipping) the same thing for years.

    In another example, I’ve overheard a customer in an Apple store say, “But Samsung builds more ARM chips than anyone else. Why shouldn’t I just go with the leader?” (To which the Apple Store employee only mumbled a non answer.) The correct response? “Apple used to own a huge fraction of ARM and thus knows the inner workings of ARM better than any other company. Apple has been working with ARM since 1991 to develop the best chips for Apple’s products. Apple designs the best chips based upon Apple’s intimate knowledge of the ARM instruction set. Samsung is really a late comer to the party and may never catch up with Apple’s 22 years of experience in working with ARM.”

    I believe this is a huge part of why the Apple Stores are faltering. If the employees don’t know and don’t truly feel in their bones that Apple is the best product out there, then it is impossible for them to relay that to customers. Customers can not only hear the difference they can FEEL the difference.

    1. I don’t know that the Apple stores are exactly faltering, but you make some very good points. It is inevitable once Apple builds enough stores that they will be stocked with retail personnel less enthusiastic than the original Apple store employees. That’s obvious. That has probably been true for quite some time as Apple has increased their stores exponentially. You just can’t keep that enthusiasm and expertise as high as it was originally when you’re adding new stores and employees constantly. Therein lies the challenge. Potential candidates worth their salt certainly understand this. It’s a near impossible task to improve on the original Apple store concept. Thus some candidates have declined the position. It’s one of those times when there’s virtually no way to go up from here. I think MDN’s suggestion of bringing back Ron Johnson is a very bad idea. Give him credit for the original Apple store success. Although I don’t believe that he was the only reason it succeeded. But good guy or not, he is tainted since the JCPenney fiasco.” He ain’t coming back”. Again, I don’t believe the Apple stores are faltering and I think that they are one of if not the best retail experience possible. I have never been disappointed when visiting an Apple store. Although honestly it has been a while. It’s impossible to improve on perfection. They’ll have a difficult time finding a really good person to lead the Apple stores. I believe the Apple stores are in good shape for the near future. Only time will tell how long they can be the best of the best.

      1. I may have been a bit harsh to say the stores are faltering. However, they are absolutely “off peak”. I don’t believe anyone can realistically argue otherwise.

        There are many ways to effectively train the staff and “get them on board”.

        You don’t need to rigid training system of MacDonalds of the 60s and 70s (though it was arguably the best low level staff training system of its day).

        You don’t need the training done by Nordstom, though they are quite good at teaching people how to make their customers feel special. besides Nordstrom sells way, way too many products for anyone to know each of them in great detail.

        I would suggest something more along the lines of REI of a decade or two ago. At that time they encouraged — and rewarded — the staff for knowing as many nuances of the products they were selling as possible. The staff were sometimes in friendly competitions (sometimes not even store sponsored) as to who knew more about the products they were offering and what would be best for specific customer needs. AND when they didn’t know the details necessary to be the most helpful they knew instantly who knew more than they did. It never was, “I think Sam might be able to help.” It was, “Let’s find Jenny. She knows all the sleeping bags inside and out. It wouldn’t surprise me if she sleeps in one at home!”

        It wasn’t a perfect system, by far. And, it appears as though it was not 100% sustainable, but even today REI’s staff are some of the most knowledgeable and helpful. (My experience and those of my friends.)

        There has to be a way to bring back the wonder. There has to be a way to bring back the “Wow, these people really get it and know their stuff.” that was the common core of the early Apple stores. The new guy/gal just needs to find it — whoever he or she may be.

        The new person does not have to recreate the magic. The new person has to create new magic and instill it into the new staff.

  7. The stores seem to be handling themselves well. I don’t see what or why anything needs to be changed until new products or services arrive. Really that’s the only thing that makes the stores do anything different anyways. You really don’t see much change in any retail stores besides Apple either. Because of the change in product release times I think that’s why it may feel like same old, same old. But once new products and services arrive you’ll see change more than likely. Don’t know what obviously. Sometimes changing to much isn’t a good thing either. It confuses the customers and if they don’t like what gets changed it could get them angry and not want to come back. Changing things doesn’t always make things better either.

  8. I don’t think bringing back Ron would do any good myself. Especially for the employees. 10 years of Apple Retail and the employees received nothing for it. He has enough money to retire happily and doesn’t need a brinks truck. He probably has a brinks truck of his own already. They need someone who’s about customer service and who cares about the employees more instead of his own bank account. There are to many of them out there already.

  9. Retail is not a priority right now until the next phase. Pretty sure the current setup will work well enough for new iOS devices and wearables. I’m curious how the French candidate thought Apple’s retail culture needed to change. Of course, the WSJ probably never thought to ask… (Sigh – Just like all of those stupid questions at conference calls… Wasted opportunities…)

    Johnson showed why Cook is a much better CEO with his Penny’s stint, and frankly, we shouldn’t put anyone else on the executive team unless they are CEO material. Johnson was wreckless.

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