The Apple Store: Bad Customer Service at Your Local Mall

by Gregory Ng Jul 10, 2003

imageI have always taken pride in being a member of the 3.5-5% minority group known as Mac users. I found out this weekend one of the reasons we stay in the minority. I came to this realization this afternoon while I was at the mall with my wife and daughter. There we were, strolling past Victoria’s Secret, Crate and Barrel, and Ann Taylor: all the usual stores you will find in any mall across the United States-when I saw a new Apple Store. The black facade, the white glow of the Apple logo—my heart began to race and my palms began to sweat. My first reaction was of excitement. I have frequented 2 other stores within driving distance, but this location is by far the closest to where I live. My walk suddenly became brisk in pace and I just couldn’t wait to see everything inside. This excitement quickly turned to outrage. Mind you this was not a verbal tirade. I was not about to make a scene in front of my daughter. Rather this was an internal rage that I have kept inside of my brain for 6 hours now and thus, I am spilling out my frustration onto my iMac. Here’s what happened.

Absolutely nothing.

Not one person. Not one so called “Mac Genius” who today were all wearing bright orange Apple Camp t-shirts, came up to me. Not one person greeted me with a hello. Not one person asked if I needed any assistance. Not one person explained to me what Apple Camp was even though as a prospective switcher nervous about the transition, I might find it useful. “This is a problem”, I thought. “Maybe they think I’m just browsing”, I thought. So I started to fiddle with things. I picked up the 30GB iPod. I ran my hand down the back of the Harman Kardon subwoofer. I picked up the ibook and flipped it over.

Still…no one.

“Maybe they are busy, I concluded as I glanced back to the bar area and saw 4 employees laughing and talking in a group. I left in disgust.

This is a big problem that Apple has on their hands. Suppose I was a timid PC user, riding the fence on switching and I came into this store looking for a friendly hand in making the switch? I would have turned right around and walked back out the door. The following is taken from Apple’s website:

“At the Apple Store you can experience the complete line of Macintosh computers and an amazing array of digital cameras, camcorders, the entire iPod family and more. The Apple Store is a place to ask questions and get answers. And it’s the best place to learn about the Mac.”

Ok, the store had the products nicely displayed but it was not the, “best place to learn about the Mac”. I am not asking for a dedicated greeter like my local Walmart. Nor am I asking for someone to hound me, a la Circuit City. Rather the Apple Store needs to focus on the non-Apple users before they cater to the existing Apple user base. We already know what we want, what is available, and what it costs. We are there to ogle and fondle. We are the 5%. Apple already has our support, our dedication, and our money. But if Apple wants to have any chance in increasing market share via the Apple Store, they are going to have to train their employees to be friendlier. Or at the very least to talk to their customers.

It’s customer service 101. What have your experiences been like at the Apple Store?


  • I want to add something to this article to make myself clear. I in no way feel this is a problem that is widespread among the Apple Stores across the country. I have had great service and education at other stores in the past. But if I were a potential buyer, I might not give the store a second chance. Apple needs to think about that.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 54
  • I recently moved from Los Angeles to New York City. Although I missed the grand opening of the Santa Monica Store, I have frequented the Glendale Store, The Grove, the Pasadena Store and even the Las Vegas Store. In my time here in NYC I have been to the Soho Store and also the Short Hills Mall Store in New Jersey.

    My experience in the Apple Stores have been quite good compared to yours, but not perfect. I have personally experienced good service from the employees I have encountered—when they have approached me. Not because they are “busy” joking around, but because they are busy helping other customers.

    I find that there aren’t enough employees to help customers. Now to be fair, there are times when it’s been slow enough that I’ve gotten service right away. But on a Saturday afternoon in Soho on a summer day, I shouldn’t have to stalk around the store and hunt down an employee for an an answer to a question or to make a purchase.

    As part of the choir that doesn’t need preaching to; I’ve been a Mac user since 1985, and have supported Apple through many CPU/peripheral/supply purchases. Even though the prices in the Apple Store are not discounted I’ve bought many products from them and their authorized resellers.

    But even Apple needs to realize, a sale is a sale, and if I am left waiting at the counter, I’ll walk out and buy somewhere else (and save money). And I’ve done that, too.

    tom had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 4
  • Greg, have you viisited more than one Apple Store, or visited more than one time? Your experience is markedly different from mine. As a former computer store manager, I’ve “rated” all of the Apple stores in the area - and in each case, I was given one, or at most two, friendly greetings - then left alone to explore. Exactly as it should be.

    Scott Schuckert had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 2
  • Scott, I have visited 7 Apple Stores in 3 states. This latest experience was my first visit to that particular store and by far the worst experience I have had to date. Yes, no service is better than bad service. I just think it’s worth a discussion.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 54
  • Perhaps you seemed to not need help, being Mac Savvy. The PC users can be spotted by trained salespeople. Still, they should have stopped joking among themselves and asked if you had any questions. There is soft sell and then there is no sale, and Apple Store employees don’t seem to be good “closers.”

    BradMacPro had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 4
  • I am astounded at the amount of employees I see at the stores.  I work in a very successful retail business and wonder how they can support such large staffs.  I know it is great to have sufficient help but the help in the Apple Stores are an overkill.  I wonder how Apple can profit when almost every store I visit (And that is at least six different stores in California and two in Texas) are overstaffed and I don’t see a lot of purchasing going on.  Again I want to say that it is a good gesture on Apple’s part to provide plenty of help but I don’t see the need most of the time.  The funny thing is when the stores happen to be busy and it is time to buy they have only two registers which is ridiculous.  I have waited up to 15 minutes to buy an adapter.  Apple needs to utilize time management, multi-tasking, and deployment to its fullest instead of creating non-productive staffs who can’t respond when it gets busy.  No wonder the stock is floundering!

    skygrp had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 7
  • As an Apple store employee, I can say that I share in the frustrations that are being written about here.  Though in our store, I think that we do a good job in recognizing a customer as they enter, something that I’ve often wondered about.  There have been some cases, after a shopper enters, where I’ve heard two or three successive “howduya doos”.  I’ve wondered if the person felt overwhelmed.  They do have a tendency to acquire a very sheepish look.  My impression is that they want to look.  Switchers have a tendency to look embarrased.

    With regard to the registers, our store just doesn’t have it going, and it’s my feeling that it pervades across the locations.  There are just not enough registers to take into account the customers that sometines have stood in line for up to ten minutes (major promotions like the iPod3 garnered such lines.) Honestly, I’m surprised that we have not lost more sales, might have.  Though I suppose a line of customers is better than no line.  I know of several instances that another register has been requested and rebuffed.  After awhile, I’ve found it’s better to leave it (the topic) alone.

    Along the same idea of register, is the telephone, could they have been placed in a worse location?  As one person is trying to ring up a client, the phone will ring.  It becomes a balancing act trying to maintain access to the keyboard while dancing out of the way of a person answering a call, not to mention breaking up the service and attention being given to the person standing in line.

    Going back to the original topic, I wonder if Greg and others might’ve entered the store right after opening and seeing a group of people gathered?

    One of our daily procedures is a Daily Download.  I’ve seen this played out more times than I had wished.  The download begins for the opening staff just minutes before the doors swing open.  I’ve seen many customers walk in, see a mass of orange shirts standing together, and kinda look “why are they not ready for business?”  To me this is extremely bad taste on Apple’s part. 

    One of the staff always turns around and does a howduya doo!  Though it doesn’t excuse our bad manners.  If the download is of that much importance, which from the actions that I’ve seen it is supposed to be, then why is it not performed before opening so that the manager has our full attention, gives us our goals, and discusses notable topics.  Bumfuzzles me why wait to do this as just as doors open, phones ring, and customers request the excellent customer service we are expected to perform.  I’ve learned to keep quite, suggestions are not appreciated.

    From my experience in retail, it’s paramount to be ready to do business as the door openes, period.  Trust me, this is a hot button for me.

    All in all, I think that these topics need to be discussed.  Hopefully, someone at Apple corporate will take notice.

    elmorfudwell had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 1
  • The Apple Store is great because Apple employees DON’T try to “close the deal”.  Doing so would almost certainly rush a number of important decisions that the customer has to make.

    To support my point, here’s an example from my experience at an Apple Store. 

    I went in to look at an iPod, but I noticed that they had Final Cut Pro on display. Since my research has evolved to include a fair amount of digital videography, I was curious whether Final Cut Pro would be of any use to me in speeding up the time it takes to convert dv tapes to quicktime files. The guy showing me the iPod found the resident FCP expert, who quickly convinced me FCP wouldn’t help me at all. But, he mentioned in passing, capturing dv to the computer itself (in plain old iMovie) might speed up my workflow. 

    I looked into what I needed when I got home, and it turned out that I’d have to get a new Titanium with a big hard drive. Based on the Apple Store employee’s information, my research assistants might get twice as much work done, making the new laptop pay for itself in a matter of weeks. 

    I bought one from the Apple Store on-line, and it turned out the Apple Store employee was wrong—we were able to get FOUR times more work done.

    The key wasn’t getting a new computer by itself:  it was knowing how the whole process works.  By taking the time to figure out my needs, the Apple Store employee not only made a much bigger sale than the one I was inquiring about, but earned my trust—which is worth a lot more in the long run.

    thinkdifferent had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 1
  • The apple employee is very brave to speak out.  What does this say about the retail leadership when an employee is afraid to give a suggestion?  My management style has always been to motivate and inspire employees to bring ideas to the table and to always create a positive and non-threatening environment.  I believe that the some of the best ideas come from my staff and I celebrate it with acknowledgment.  It also garners a greater respect for me from my staff and shows I am confident in my management style. 

    skygrp had this to say on Jul 10, 2003 Posts: 7
  • You are kidding right, let’s see Steve Jobs pretty much makes every decision at Apple it’s no wonder that employee’s are afraid to make suggestions, if Steve does not like it they’re out of there. The stores are his baby, he does not want them to be cluttered up with things like registers. After all Steve shops where normal people shop right???

    My experience at the Apple stores in the SF Bay Area (Except for Palo Alto where Steve has been known to stop by often) has been terrible. In the Emeryville store I waited at the counter with a piece of software in one hand and my wallet in another waiting for an employee to ring me up at the counter in the back of the store with employee’s walking by to go into the back room (the great employee black hole). I waited 15 minutes before an employee (who used to work for me by the way) walked by and asked me if I wanted to buy the software, duh!!!. In the Santa Clara store me and a buddy walked around for 1 hour (I kid you not) and no one came up to us and asked if we needed help, they were too busy talking and laughing it up, or cleaning (sanding) the displays, or looking out the door.

    I can only wish I had the resources of Apple. The store I would create would have a greeter (they have enough people that everyone that walks into the store should be greeted when they walk in), they should assign salespeople to the register (most of the time they wander off and like I mentioned above flagging one down is sometimes next to impossible). They should lock their back room doors, since their salespeople have a bad habit of disappearing in the back and never coming back out. With their staffing there is just no excuse for them losing any sales because a customer can’t get helped or find a salesperson.

    They also need to train their salespeople on basic people skills, in the Northridge store me and my wife were talking to a salesperson about an iMac and all the salesperson did was stare at my wife’s chest, when I asked him if he saw anything he liked, he turned around and walked away. When I complained about it to one of the Asst. Managers, he said “well we hire computer geeks and sometimes their manners are not very good” I fired off an email of complaint to Apple, but never heard back, I guess they are a company of geeks.

    dogface1956 had this to say on Jul 11, 2003 Posts: 3
  • This is what I am talking about in all of my responses.  They have an obscene amount of staff and there is no sense of deployment, awareness, urgency, or for that matter people skills in some of the stores.  Those employees like the above are stepping up to the plate.  If the management fires people for ideas or speaking up, I believe Karma will prevail.  After all isn’t Jobs into Karma?  Doesn’t he remember being fired from Apple himself?  Maybe the employee above will be the next store manager, regional retail director or for that mater on the board of CEOs!  It takes courage to change the course of companies and I applaud the employee.

    skygrp had this to say on Jul 11, 2003 Posts: 7
  • As you said:

    The following is taken from Apple’s website: “The Apple Store is a place to ask questions and get answers. And it’s the best place to learn about the Mac.”
    Maybe they didn’t help you because you didn’t ask questions….

    Although I do take your point about them talking amongst themselves and joking; I find this very irritating in any store, let alone an Apple Store.

    gagravaar had this to say on Jul 11, 2003 Posts: 1
  • So what if the stores are Steve Jobs’ baby. Yes, they are beautiful to look at but these are stores, not museums or art galleries. The lack of sufficient registers makes this seem like a playground for fooling around wiuth Mac products, not a place to buy. If this is the intention, then aren’t Apple Stores catering to existing Apple users primarily?

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jul 11, 2003 Posts: 54
  • gagravaar,

    You are correct in saying bad customer service is a problem in most stores. The difference is Kmart or Target are not using their stores as a strategy to penetrate a market (computers) and to try to get people to switch platforms.

    Apple is not in a situation to be complacant with its products or its (diminishing) market share.

    As some other comments have noted there is a difference between being agressive and pushy in making a sale and being helpful. I don’t think Apple employees should be hounding people to close the sale. I do think being asked when you enter the store, “how can I help you” would be, well, helpful.

    Maybe its a scenario kind of thing. “Hello, welcome to Apple, do you currently own a mac?”

    bobby had this to say on Jul 11, 2003 Posts: 15
  • How can you ask them questions if they avoid you? They don’t make eye contact, they often hang out in groups talking and laughing, which I think is intimating to newbie’s since it seems the employees are in on some kind of inside joke or something. In the Santa Clara Apple store I walked around looking puzzled and trying to make eye contact with the salespeople and would not engage me in conversation. I even walked over to one of the digital camera displays with my buddy, right next to a store employee who was cleaning a display and started talking about things like, I wonder how many megapixels this camera is, I wonder if I can print out 13 x 19 high resoulution pictures using this camera, what do you think the camera comes with, the employee acted like they could not hear us and started cleaning another display across the store.

    The fact is that with the resources that Apple has the stores could be killer, but they are not, the salespeople act superior like they know something you don’t, the displays are not clearly marked (they don’t even seperate the OS X software and the OS 9 only software), they don’t have enough registers for peak times (like the iPod intro), and they don’t man their registers all the time so if you picked something off the shelf without the help of a salesperson good luck getting help.

    Yes the stores look nice, yes they are entirely focused on the Mac, but it takes more than that to make a great shopping experience and the Apple stores are not there yet, and I wonder with the attitude they seem to have if they will ever get there.

    dogface1956 had this to say on Jul 11, 2003 Posts: 3
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