Apple Stores risk losing some of what made them great

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Apple West Lake
Do you think that Apple Stores have gotten worse over time?
Photo: Apple

Apple Stores have long been leaders when it comes to the customer experience. But that’s starting to change, as decisions made by Apple erode some of the things which once made them great.

At least, that’s according to a new article from Bloomberg, which singles out a few key examples.

One problem, the report claims, is that the quality of employees has slipped as Apple has continued to open new stores. It now has more than 500 locations, with 70,000 people. Many of the changes, however, seem to have taken place under the leadership of Apple’s now-departed retail boss, Angela Ahrendts. It notes that:

“One of her first moves was to turn the stores into ‘Town Squares,’ where shoppers could hang out and, in industry parlance, ‘spend time with the brand.’ Lines at the Genius Bar would have spoiled the effect, so stores started replacing the beloved customer-service counters with Genius Groves (comfortable seating under trees), tables and roaming Geniuses. Checkout counters also disappeared in favor of salespeople armed with mobile devices. The goal was to make Apple stores more like luxury showrooms, pushing offstage the unseemly business of checking out and fielding complaints.”

Not everything has worked out

That’s a good idea in theory, but Bloomberg suggests it may not have necessarily worked out for the best. Geniuses, for example, are now harder to access. Moreover, the report claims that Geniuses used to be trained at Apple’s Cupertino HQ. Now they’re mainly trained in stores. In addition, regular employees have gotten less technical.

It also suggests that Ahrendts shouldered some blame for the lack of early Apple Watches soon after she joined.

“Some say her tenure got off to an undeservedly rough start with the launch of the Apple Watch. Apple’s first wearable device had been hyped for months but, owing to production snafus, the stores didn’t have enough units for several months. Ahrendts (and store associates) took a lot of heat for that, they say.”

Finally, it notes that some of the recent changes at Apple Stores were in stark contrast to Ahrendts’ store philosophy. This might lean more toward the hypothesis that Ahrendts may have been pushed out of Apple, rather than leaving voluntarily.

“Even before Ahrendts’s departure was announced in February, Apple began moving away from her strategy. Stickers and poster boards appeared in stores pushing new devices and initiatives—anathema to Ahrendts’s less-is-more philosophy. The pricey, special-edition watches were long gone, and Apple had introduced lower-priced handsets like the iPhone XR.”

Fair criticism?

It’s important to note that the article is mostly conjecture. Anyone who has ever worked in a retail environment will know that it’s difficult to please all of the people all of the time.

As hugely profitable outlets, it’s hard to say that Apple Stores are doing too much that’s fundamentally wrong. Tim Cook recently sang the praises of Apple Stores ahead of the opening of Apple’s new retail outlet in the Carnegie Library in Washington D.C Bloomberg has also certainly seemed to be wrong before, most notably in its (still not retracted) spy chip story.

But the challenges associated with growing too fast are very real. And, in my experience, changes like the lack of availability of staff is a fairly routine complaint among Apple Store visitors.

What do you think? Has the service in Apple Stores gotten worse in your experience? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: Bloomberg