Are Apple stores changing their strategy away from customer experience?


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Electronics retailers’ customer experience has not generally enjoyed a stellar perception. Customers are all too familiar with sales people who know little more that what is written on product info cards at POS. With the advent of the internet shopping, the natural advantage retailers had was eliminated. Customers can get precise information on products and prices and make comparisons. By the time many customers get to the store (if they in fact need to go to the store), they are mini experts and often know more than sales people. The internet effectively magnified the inept perception customers have of sales people. Knowledgeable customers can now absolutely verify if the sales person has a clue or not.

Apple stores have been a standout in the crowd. Most people in customer experience will hold Apple up as one of the stalwarts of good customer experience across industry. The fact that Apple has done this in electronics retailing is even more impressive. However, Chris Foresman wrote an interesting Op-Ed for Ars Technica stating that Apple may be shifting gears away from its strong focus on the customer experience towards a push sell strategy. Foresman reports that Apple’s Senior VP of retail John Browett might be putting the highly regarded Apple stores on course to become “clones of the near-universally reviled PC World and Curry’s chains that Browett managed as CEO of Dixons Retail”.

An article on (Reports Persist of Budget Cuts, Emphasis on Revenue) reports the following type of changes being implemented at Apple:

  • “Employee sales metrics now incorporating something called “essentials per hero product” which rates employees on how well they sell accessory items to things like iPhones and Macbooks.
  • Employees may also be judged by encouraging customers to but accessories through the EasyPay app. Unfortunately for sales specialists, these sales will not be credited to their individual targets but to the Store’s overall target. Store managers will use the EasyPay metrics in regards to promotions and other perks.

If true, this could signal a shift for Apple away from being the beacon of customer experience that it has held. What’s at risk for Apple? Apple is known to generate more revenue per square foot than even high-end stores and seventeen times better performance than the average retailer. So, even if, as Foresman reports, “Apple’s profit margin on retail sales is only about 22 percent” and “sales numbers are still dwarfed by online sales and other channels”, Apple stores currently perform at gold standard levels. So the gamble, if one is indeed being taken, is to risk current and proven gold standard performance based on customer experience principles for a hypothetical boost in profitability that hardly materialised in any sustainable way for large electronics retailers where this strategy has been practiced

I tend to speak of Apple stores as an example of best practice customer experience.It would be a real shame if Apple loses that focus. However, if it is true, I would love to be sitting at Samsung waiting for this misstep on Apple’s part. Given the recent dealing between Samsung and Apple, Samsung could not wish for a better scenario than Apple stores losing its customer experience lustre.

It will not take long for us all to know what the real answer is. If in your upcoming visits to Apple stores, you feel the employees are just that little bit more pushy than you are accustomed to and less relaxed than they used to be; and if the store somehow feels less spacious and maybe is looking a bit more like a regular computer shop, then you will know the Apple that most of us liked is on its strategic last legs. Let’s see.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Qaalfa Dibeehi
Qaalfa Dibeehi is the author of "Achieving Customer Experience Excellence" and "Customer Experience Future Trends and Insights". He has 20+ years experience in the customer experience related space with particular emphasis on organisations that have a dual commercial and social/community responsibility. He is Non-Executive Director at Emerge. Previously, he was Chief Operating and Consulting Officer at Beyond Philosophy and Director at Fulcrum Analytics. He has an MBA from NYU and three other Masters Degrees from City U. of New York in Statistics, Psychology and Health Care Administration.


  1. The shift to hard(er) selling is one of the things that has hurt Best Buy. I’m baffled why Apple would want to follow this path, especially when it has the most profitable retail operation in the world.

    The recent iPhone5 maps fiasco and these apparent shifts in retail focus could be signs that the post-Steve Jobs era has really begun.

  2. Bob, agreed. It may be a bit premature to say this has happened in earnest but my guess is that the new leadership is looking to make it’s mark on Apple. If that mark is not going to be made in innovation and experience, then it will be in traditional financial terms to please the stockholders in the near term. If true, (1) Apple will begin to make run-of-the-mill decisions that it had the good fortune to avoid on numerous occasions when Jobs was at the helm and (2) let’s see how much emotional credit Apple really has accrued with its massive audience.


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