Report Highlights How Apple Stores Have Focused More on Branding and Less on Serving Customers in Recent Years

Bloomberg report highlights the issues with Apple’s retail stores and how they have lost their charm in recent years. Apple’s retail stores have been one of its key strengths and the point of envy of many companies in the market. Customers have widely praised their experience inside Apple stores but that is no longer true.

As the report highlights citing many Apple store employees and executives, over the years, the focus in Apple Store has gone from serving customers to selling products. They do not do a good job of serving customers as they have to unnecessarily wait while buying products or for talking to the Genius for product repairs. The quality of the staff has also gone down and that has affected the end user experience.

Apple’s retail efforts have been led by Angela Ahrendts since May 2014. Under her leadership, Apple’s retail stores underwent a massive change. She turned Apple stores into luxury stores, replaced Genius Bar with Genius Groves and roaming Geniuses to reduce queues, and completely did away with Checkout counters. She moved the sales and service aspect online in a bid to streamline things.

Customers were to make an appointment on Apple’s website and then pick up the product at a store. Apple was “trying to streamline things,” says one employee, “but in the process made things more difficult for some customers.”

However, in her bid to improve the overall retail experience, Ahrendts ended up upsetting the finely tuned balance of Apple stores which involved selling products, helping customers, and teaching them how to get the most out of their products.

Over time, according to several current and former employees, Ahrendts upset that finely tuned balance. “You don’t feel like there is much engagement at the front of the store, there isn’t a push to people,” says the former executive. “The store should be a place where you see upgrades happening.”

The overhaul of the Genius Bar has been especially controversial. Customers looking for technical advice or repairs must now check in with an employee, who types their request into an iPad. Then when a Genius is free, he or she must find the customer wherever they happen to be in the store. Ahrendts was determined to get rid of lineups, but now the stores are often crowded with people waiting for their iPhones to be fixed or batteries swapped out.

Worse, Apple retail employees and executives believe that the quality of the retail employees declined under Ahrendts leadership.

Employees also say the deterioration in the quality of store staff didn’t start under Ahrendts but worsened during her tenure. “Employees used to be very skilled,” one says. “When you came to Apple, you could walk in and talk to someone who happens to be a musician or videographer on the side, really knowledgeable. They hire really nice people now, but they are much less technical.” During the Johnson era, sales associates got three weeks to a month of training; now they get about a week if they’re joining an existing store. Geniuses, who earn $22 an hour on average, according to Glassdoor, were trained at Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters. Now they’re mostly trained in stores.

Apple announced in February that Ahrendts would be quitting as Apple’s retail chief. She would be succeeded by Deirdre O’Brien who has been at Apple for over three decades now. Apart from leading Apple’s retail efforts, she is also the SVP of People at the company and has her task cut out — restore Apple’s retail stores to their former glory in terms of experience.

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Do you agree with the report? Do you feel the experience inside Apple stores has gone down in recent years?

[Via Bloomberg]