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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. I worked for Apple Retail for more then a decade. Since Steve’s absence in the everyday running of the business, even before his passing, the retail stores started running poorly. Ron’s departure only further cemented a bumpy future and we are now starting to see the effects. It’s only going to get worse because the employees are starting to become more and more restless with the, help multiple customers at a time and solely focus on profits mentality.

  6. I think this is indicitive of a larger problem. MDN take is rediculous. Is there really only one person who can take this mission? Do you have to pay them 10 or 100s of millions of dollars – really?
    How about some new ideas, some fresh blood. Stop hiring guys from department stores. Stop hiring old cronnies with shoddy tracks records and bloated price tags. Aparantly the US is a hotbed of tallent and innovation. And you can’t find one person with the passion and functioning brain to run one of the best and well established reatil chains in existance?

  7. AUGUST EFFECT bullshit article

    Locally, my Apple Store tripled its space and had a complete design overhaul. It’s sales have INCREASED as well.

    So darned, Ian Sherr and Joann S. Lublin who report for The Wall Street Journal! You’re wrong. But you don’t care. You’re on vacation.

    Don’t forget the beach ball! (o_0)

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