The Apple Store is now 10 years old. As I’ve been reading all of the articles in the tech press about it, I realized that I’m not sure when I last set foot in an Apple Store. I think it was about a year ago, when my first iPhone 4 died.
I’ve come to hate the Apple Store experience. I seem to be one of the few. They’re still the most profitable retail store per square foot. I only go into the Apple Store if I absolutely have to, which is to say when I’ve done enough troubleshooting on a piece of Apple hardware to know that it’s a hardware issue and they’re likely going to replace it.
I used to go into the Apple Store to browse, to check out the latest hardware, accessories, and software. I played with the in-store hardware and chatted with the employees. My husband and I would joke that we couldn’t go in there just to browse because bad things would happen to our chequebook. That concern is gone.
The Genius Bar is an awesome idea, and I used to love it. Here’s how it’s described in a 2007 Fortune article about the Apple retail experience:
“When we launched retail, I got this group together, people from a variety of walks of life,” says [Apple's Ron] Johnson. “As an icebreaker, we said, ‘Tell us about the best service experience you’ve ever had.'” Of the 18 people, 16 said it was in a hotel. This was unexpected. But of course: The concierge desk at a hotel isn’t selling anything; it’s there to help. “We said, ‘Well, how do we create a store that has the friendliness of a Four Seasons Hotel?'” The answer: “Let’s put a bar in our stores. But instead of dispensing alcohol, we dispense advice.”
I think that the Genius Bar has little in common with either a bar or a good hotel concierge any longer. They don’t really dispense advice now. You’ve got to make an appointment if you actually want to talk to a Genius. You can try to talk to someone if you happen to drop in, but there’s a huge wait. There’s often a long wait even if you do have an appointment.
The bar aspect is gone. You usually can’t wait at the bar for your appointment, but just hang around hopefully. There’s no opportunity to be social or informal. They’re too busy to do anything other than give a cursory glance and try to get you out of the way as soon as possible.
I’ve observed that the way that they’re most likely to take care of a problem is simply to give the user a replacement piece of hardware. This, of course, results in a delighted user: their problem has disappeared, and it’s been replaced with a shiny new thing that (presumably) doesn’t have the issue. There’s usually not a lot of troubleshooting or attempt to actually fix the problem. I’ve certainly been quite pleased to have my old and busted iPhone replaced with a new and shiny one. Conceptually, though, I find it amusing that their response to something that isn’t working really isn’t all that different from the old “have you turned it off and back on?” tech support solution.
I don’t go to the Geniuses for software issues. I’ve too often heard them give entirely incorrect information. I once sorted out someone’s MobileMe syncing problem in under five minutes, after a Genius had spent more than an hour on it. I lost count of the number of times I’ve heard them give incorrect information about Office. I even corrected a Genius who told someone that Mail couldn’t work with Gmail.
A few years ago, Apple removed cash registers from their stores. This drives me absolutely batty. I walk in, I want to buy something, and now I’ve got to find someone who can actually do it. I can’t do it at the Genius Bar because they’re always way overbooked. I have to try to find an available employee, and that’s difficult in a packed store. Without a cash register, there’s no way for me to indicate that I want to purchase something without flagging down a passing employee. There’s no queue, and I’ve often been frustrated when someone who has just walked into the store gets the service that I’ve been desperately trying to get for several minutes.
Last week, I came across an essay from the director of a creative agency titled “Your Agency on PCs” in which he has a reasoned discussion about Windows versus Mac. He says this about the Apple Store:
If Apple cared about user experience, they’d build a store with a fucking cash register. I’d rather stab myself in the eye than have to walk past all those glassy-eyed zombies to talk to a “genius.” If I go to the London Drugs down the street, a real person will address my problem, without booking an appointment a week in advance. That’s for any product they sell, and there’s little likelihood of anyone there calling me “dude.”
Yeah, that. That paragraph pretty well encapsulates why I hate the Apple Store. It makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one.