The Apple Store: Bad Customer Service at Your Local Mall, Part II

by Gregory Ng Jan 16, 2004

I have left it no secret that I feel the Apple Stores are in need of help. Yes, there seems to be a ton of success with these stores both in sales and in presence in the marketplace. And what other computer maker could pull this off? Well, Gateway has their Gateway Country stores and anyone who has walked into those stores, know that Gateway has done a good job establishing stores that match their company’s philosophy (In my opinion, that philosophy is summed up by a little word called, Folksie”. IPods are selling faster than the stores can stock them. In a recent trip to my local Apple Store, an employee told me since Thanksgiving, he estimated they were selling over 15 iPods a day. That’s a lot of iPods. Now multiply that by the number of Apple Stores and you get an iPod revolution! But we know that already. The fact of the matter is although, Apple is selling iPods like gangbusters, I am fearful that they are treading dangerous waters with the service at these stores. After all, when the sales of iPods starts to decline, what’s the next product that will fly off the shelves? When the Apple Stores again begin to exist solely for computer sales, the sales force assembled to handle the iPod won’t know what hit them. Anyone one can sell an iPod. With the endless product placements in popular culture and the constant presence on everyone’s “Hot” list, the iPod sell themselves. But if you dare ask a serious question about a computer, it seems the sales force falls short.  For the last 2 months I had been entertaining the idea of getting a new Powerbook. During this time, I visited 2 Apple Stores a total of 3 times and called 3 different Apple Stores more than 3 times a piece. Each time I had specific questions that I needed answered. Sadly, I am reporting that I had mixed success when dealing with Apple Store staff. Here’s a sampling of some of my experiences.  Doing my research on the pros and cons of the 15” Powerbook, I first called ahead to the 3 store locations near me to see if they had the model in stock. Every store had the model in stock and I was happy to find out that the Apple Store does not sell refurbished models of any of their computers but does sell “Refreshed” models. The employee competently explained to me that a refreshed model is a computer that was returned for whatever reason and had no problems with it. A store employee then sets the computer back to factory settings and sells the machine at a 10% discount. This is a great opportunity for bargain hunters to get a great machine (slightly used) for a good discount. I contemplated waiting until after Christmas to purchase mine as surely someone would get the model I want for christmas and for whatever reason return it. But after some consideration, I felt I didn’t want to take that chance and besides, I wanted to be the one who “broke the seal” on my new computer.  Grade: A for educating me on “Refreshed” models  I then asked about the so-called “white spot” issue that has been popping up in user forums lately concerning the 15” Powerbook. Many Powerbook owners have been complaining of white spots developing on the corners of their screens. I felt I needed to do due diligence and inquire about the issue. When I asked the question over the phone, I was met with silence. Then a terse reply, “I am not aware of that issue.” Interesting I thought considering just that morning, Apple announced that they are officially recognizing there is an issue and that they will repair any affected machines. I am not sure if this employee knew of the recent news and chose to not tell me or was simply clueless. I do have the utmost confidence that it would never have come up if I didn’t ask about it. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just got in for their shift and weren’t briefed yet on that day’s happenings. Maybe, that type of info was reserved only for Mac Geniuses. Either way, the moment of silence gave me the uneasy feeling, the gentlemen didn’t know if he was supposed to answer me or not. Grade: C because it was just that day Apple made the announcement.  I then asked whether the Powerbooks in stock came with Panther preloaded or if it would require that the updater disc.  Again, I was met with a lackluster answer, “I don’t know.” I come to understand that indeed, it depends on when the Powerbook shipped to determine whether it was preloaded or not. Was that info so hard to pass along? Grade: D for not answering a simple question adequately.  I asked whether iDVD3 was pre-installed. Please see my previous article to see why this was an important question to me. I was answered, “Yes. The Powerbook Superdrive comes pre-installed with the entire iLife suite. Finally, i got a knowledgeable response. This bit of info was very exciting to me. The sales person then tried to upsell me with the Keynote promotion and the Final Cut pro promotion. Yes, now this man is doing his job! Grade: A for answering my question correctly and turning it into an upsell opportunity.  So I took this info and of course did more research. I scoured support forums, talked to my knowledgeable colleagues and friends, and convinced myself it was time to buy.  After deciding to buy I called each of the 3 stores once again and asked if they had the 15” Superdrive Powerbook in stock and they all said yes. I then asked each one of them whether there were any “refreshed 15” Superdrive Powerbooks in stock. 2 Said no. The third told me they had a 17” Superdrive Powerbook that was “refreshed” and had an addtional 10% off because there was one white pixel on the screen. With the 2 10% discounts it brought the price down to under what a new 15” would have cost me. But the problem was the damaged pixel. I asked where the damaged pixel was on the screen. My thinking was if it was on the corner of the screen it might be fine. The salesman explained to me that he could not start up the machine to check because it would then need to be refreshed again. But he could start it up and show me the blue screen and then shut it down. I asked him “If there is a damaged pixel isn�t in fact a damaged machine not a refreshed machine?” He did not understand my reasoning. Nonetheless, he was knowledgeable and informative. Grade B+  Finally, I decided to purchase a new 15” Superdrive Powerbook at the store. I was there when the doors opened and I walked right up to the guy and told him what I wanted and that before I buy, I had a few questions for him. He patiently listened to me as I asked him about the white spot issue to which he replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about” and then smiled. I knew he knew what I was talking about. And he knew I knew he knew what I was talking about. I responded with a, “Oh come on.” he then explained to me that if the issue arises, I could drop off my Powerbook with them in which case they will send it out to replace the screen with a brand new one and it would take 5 to 7 working days. Grade: A- because I am not convinced he would have told me had I not asked.  I then asked him about Panther. He said, he would take the machine out of the box (after I purchase it of course) and check for me. Grade: A because this guys a straight shooter.  I then asked him about iDVD. He said it in fact did not come with iDVD 3. I told him that another salesperson had told me otherwise and he said, “He must be mistaken.” He then conferred with another salesperson and told me a definitive, “No, it does not come with iDVD3.” In which I replied, I am spending $3000 on a machine that comes with not the latest version of the software and I have to buy ILife just to get iDVD 3?” he said yes, I was correct with that statement. He then asked if I wanted it, and I said, “No. It’s not that important to me.”  Grade: F because when I brought the computer home it did in fact have iDVD3 preloaded.  After this, he told me about the Keynote offer, Get a $50 rebate when you buy Keynote. I played dumb. What is Keynote? he responded, “It’s like PowerPoint but better.” I asked, how is it better? He couldn�t tell me. I declined the offer as well as the offer for Final Cut Pro. I did take advantage of a free Epson printer however. Grade: C because he tried but he just didn�t know enough to convince me.  As you can see, the scores are all across the board. Let me be clear, I do not blame the people who work there. Many of them are people simply looking for a job. I think that the problems lie on the hiring process and the training process. I am fearful that the staff the Apple Store has hired people who simply looking for a retail job and have an interest in computers. These stores should employ knowledgeable Apple enthusiasts who keep up on the latest news and enjoy passing that info to potential buyers.  Following is a job description of an open position at an Apple Store:  Key Holder THE Sales Leader Are you as passionate about customer service as you are about the latest Mac OS? Does the thought of switching PC users, and closing an Apple sale, make you tingle even more than those three seconds right after a sneeze? Do you have retail sales coupled with leadership or management experience and can�t imagine a more rewarding place to utilize those skills than an Apple Store? If so, you might have what it takes to become a Key Holder.  You, and millions of other Mac users around the world, know that when a computer is done right it can be much more than a beige box made for the left side of the brain. You know and love the power and elegance of the Mac.  As an Apple Key Holder, you’ll have the opportunity to share this life-enriching tool with other people while motivating other Mac Specialists through your leadership and sales abilities. Whether someone is a new user, a lifelong Mac enthusiast, or a PC switcher, you’ll be the person to show him or her how a Macintosh can change lives.  Some stores have salespeople who are just filling a hole in the schedule. Our salespeople are the cream of the crop. Are you the person to help lead them?  So far I would say only half of the people I have dealt with fit this description. If you think you have what it takes, please apply for these jobs. Computer shoppers will thank you for it and so will I.


  • I generally have had a good experience in the Apple stores in Washington state. However a couple of times I was wondering if I had wandered into Best Buy by mistake.

    Once I was buying 2 airport cards. They only had one on the shelf so the salesperson had to go in the back to look. Many minutes went by when I saw that he was helping another (girl) customer. In other words, he was turned by a pretty face and I was left standing like an idiot waiting. Another salesman saw this, apologized, and got me the other card.

    This was no real big deal (I know all about hormones). But the next time it was worse.

    I was looking around the store, checking out the 20 in iMac, when a man and his wife asked me some questions about it. He was wanting to do some video work and was asking for some recommendations as to what computer to get. I was giving him my ‘semi-educated’ opinions and was steering him towards a 2ghz G5. A saleswoman finally came by (it was not busy, and there were several sales people standing around) and I passed the customer over, but stood by to see what they were going to do. The guy was interested in the G5, but really wanted to see a demonstration of how to burn a DVD. He asked the saleswoman if the G5 would do this and she, of course, said yes. He then asked if she could show him, and she said that she couldn’t. This disturbed the man very much (he turned to me and said, “See, that’s what I’m talking about, nobody will ever show you how to do it” and eventually left. I did tell him that the whole idea behind the Apple stores is to let people come in and USE the equipment. I tried to get him to find another more willing and knowledgable salesperson, but his wife was running out of patience, so they left. I have no idea if they ever returned.

    So basically, if I would have just kept talking to the guy, there was a good chance I could have ‘sold’ him a computer. But since I didn’t work there, the deal fell through.

    Best part about the whole thing…I had applied for Manager and Sales positions in both Washington stores, and didn’t even get a call.

    Michael Steiner had this to say on Jan 16, 2004 Posts: 2
  • I’ve applied for a position several times and have gotten no call.  I hope I get the job eventually.

    Tuju Crue had this to say on Jan 17, 2004 Posts: 15
  • I am pleased to report I went to the local Apple Store and purchased iLife. The employee that helped me was knowledgeable and friendly.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jan 17, 2004 Posts: 54
  • I have purchased 3 powerbooks and lots of hardware and software over the last 8 months. My experiences for the most part have been excellent. When I wanted service and advice I received it, when I wanted to play I was left alone.

    rico had this to say on Jan 20, 2004 Posts: 1
  • I have only ran into excellent relationships and advice at the Cincinnati Store. Many of the employees are there making less money at a retail spot than working in the IT world because they love the company.

    I am sorry to hear that in other parts of the world the Apple Stores aren’t up to par.

    Ryan Mesch had this to say on Feb 01, 2004 Posts: 1
  • I feel sorry for the people that have to work there. Most probally are getting paid 7 bucks an hour to deal with over zealous critical people like yourself.  I have had nothing but good experiences at my local Apple store. Whenever I have a problem, they go above and beyond what other like retailers would do for their customers. To me it sounds that you just have nothing better to do then to nit pick and go out of your way to trip the sales people up. Just like a big bully. Grow up. There are better things to do in life.

    modeemind had this to say on Feb 02, 2004 Posts: 1
  • Oh my god. Lighten up people. This is a commentary site on all things Apple. If you read carefully you will understand that I see this as a problem with Apple’s philosophy not the fault of individual employees. Also, I do not mean to be a bully, only someone who questions things for discussion and hopefully discussion can bring forth change.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Feb 02, 2004 Posts: 54
  • I live in the Chicagoland area and have been to the flagship Michigan Ave. store as well as to the one closer to my home in the suburbs.  While the Michigan Avenue store is quite impressive in its size and glitz, the Old Orchard store has the identical layout and feel to it—-minus the theater and internet cafe.

    There is something almost Stepford-like in how the employees have t-shirts that match the screens.  The color scheme changes frequently as well.  Because I work in the mall, I notice these things.

    I am usually one of just a few shoppers in the store and the customers almost always outnumber the staff when I have been there.

    I had some curiosity about the particular operation of this store because of working in the same mall, and found out that the manager couldn’t answer my questions because all such information was held at corporate headquarters in Cupertino. In fact, the manager said that all decisions regarding the operation of the store are made at corporate.  Hmm, even MORE Stepford-like.

    The employees knowledge base seems to be specific to their area of expertise and only the manager seemed to have a sound overall knowledge of the various questions I had regarding both hardware and sortware.  This has not been my experience at the local Apple specialist in my area.

    Lastly, when I wanted to add a CD burner to my G3 tower, an Apple employee told me on the sly that I should get a Panasonic burner and have it installed.  The only problem is that the Apple store can’t help you either get one or install it for you.

    My local Apple specialist was able to do both.

    I think the Apple stores are a wonderful place to go and play with great Apple products and accesories.  The knowledge base of the employees is spotty, however, so do your homework before you go in to play.  And, if you want to get expert input before making a purchase, either go to a place that has been doing this for longer, like the Apple specialist I mentioned, or hope that you luck out and find an employee whose niche affords him/her expertise in what you are interested in purchasing.

    cookiemonster had this to say on Feb 07, 2004 Posts: 3
  • I’ve only been to my local Apple Store in SoHo, New York City, but I’ve been there many times and it’s always a great experience. From what I’ve heard about other stores, I think it may be one of the best stores. Every employee is always friendly and knowledgeable, especially the Apple Specialists at the Genius Bar, who are usually more knowledgeable than the AppleCare tech support people on the phone. There are not many good Mac stores in NYC, so the Apple Store was a wonderful blessing when it opened. smile

    ABassCube had this to say on Feb 13, 2004 Posts: 1
  • I stepped into the Apple store hoping for an iMovie presentation on January 13th, 2004 (as scheduled Online). There was no iMovie presentation for that day and I was told by the genius at the Genius bar (he is very friendly guy), and he told me that I can ask any representative on the floor to show me the basic use of iMovie. I asked two representatives on the floor at the Apple store (Pallisade Mall, West Nyack, NY).  One of which was very rude to me, he told me I can go explore the help option on the iMovie!!! I told him (Bugzy was his nick name), would you please show me how to use basic feature of the iMovie, and he rudely moved to a nearby machine to show me, I was feeling very uncomfortable so I sent this message to Apple stores support feedback and left. I am a researcher at the a higher education institution, conducting anaylsis on plant genomes using all available Apple software and hardwares, including the expensive Xserver cluster and I recently had converted my lab from PC to Macintosh based. Should I need to be served so rudely? This is not my first time, please, do Apple stores screen their employees?  It reflects a lot on Apple company status, especially after today’s experience, I would think twice in stepping into one of the stores.

    Soap-Opera Apple Service had this to say on Jan 14, 2005 Posts: 1
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