Web Smith’s recent experience at his local Apple store in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, has been an exercise in frustration.
There was the time he visited the Easton Town Center location to buy a laptop for his 11-year-old daughter and spent almost 20 minutes getting an employee to accept his credit card. In January, Smith was buying a monitor and kept asking store workers to check him out, but they couldn’t because they were Apple “Geniuses” handling tech support and not sales.
“It took me forever to get someone to sell me the product,” says Smith, who runs 2PM Inc., an e-commerce research and consulting firm. “It’s become harder to buy something, even when the place isn’t busy. Buying a product there used to be a revered thing, now you don’t want to bother with the inconvenience.”
Smith’s sentiment is shared by legions of Apple customers who vent on social media, customer forums and in conversations with reporters. Only a few years ago, the raves easily outpaced the pans.
In interviews, current and former Apple employees blame a combination of factors. They say the stores have become mostly an exercise in branding and no longer do a good job serving mission shoppers like Smith. Meanwhile, they say, the quality of staff has slipped during an 18-year expansion that has seen Apple open more than 500 locations and hire 70,000 people. The Genius Bar, once renowned for its tech support, has been largely replaced with staff who roam the stores and are harder to track down. That’s a significant drawback because people are hanging onto their phones longer these days and need them repaired.
In January, Apple Inc. stunned Wall Street, warning that revenue for the holiday quarter would come in well below forecasts, mostly owing to slowing sales of the iPhone. While weakening demand for Apple’s most important product largely reflects a maturing smartphone market, the problems at the stores weren’t helping. Weeks later, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook announced that retail chief Angela Ahrendts was leaving and would be succeeded by veteran Apple executive Deirdre O’Brien. Read more