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?


  • It starts with the hiring process.  You want to hire people who are passionate about Apple and want to help people make choices.  You then must make sure your managers are on the floor with the employees guiding them and giving feedback and encouragement as well as holding accountability.  You must also focus on the importance of connecting and discovering what the customer wants and this can only happen if the team member has the ability to focus on creating a trusting interaction.  Being smug or condescending is ridiculous.  It’s about connecting with human beings and adjusting your style to the customers skill set.  This is succeeding in some of the stores I visit but more often it is not the case.  When you staff with excessive amounts of associates, you create a bloated and not productive environment where people just get plain lazy or are never challenged.  As for the assistant manager who said, “sorry we only hire computer nerds,” 
    when responding to a customers complaint about rudeness, that is the wrong kind of leadership the stores need.  Apple should look long and hard at what Starbucks can do with 6800 stores worldwide and still have the ability to be on the winning side of customer service.  Now that’s a challenge.

    skygrp had this to say on Jul 12, 2003 Posts: 7
  • I have been to the Glendale, CA store and the store in the Mall of America.  Even though I know I can buy from a variety of places and of course have over the years, I found the experience in both stores great.  I frequent the Mall of America store more then I probably should and in the past month I have been there 3 times (its a 70 mile one way trip) and I have left with an 12” Powerbook, a 15gig iPod and the last trip I left with an Airport Extreme base station, and AP Extreme card for the 12” Powerbook and a normal Airport card for my aging Powerbook G4/400, and an iSight after our business partner ordered via the online store a Dual G5/2ghz system, 23” Cinema Display, an iSight, and a few other things… the display and iSight have already arrived and he insisted that I get the iSight… at any rate, busy store, everytime I am in there people are leaving with purchases, generally a great share of them are big purchases (big, ie: systems + extras like iPods, and of course general one off sales of an iPod or other items..) Staff is always fast… I stop playing and look around and have staff ask if I need help… let them know I needed a 15gig iPod and a 12” Powerbook and they were back at the register with both in less then 3 minutes while other people were being checked out.  I have stayed just to eavesdrop on conversations with employees and people in the store looking to buy/ask questions, and have been impressed… I have yet to have a bad experience… even took a dead Powerbook G4 power cord (transformer) in to the store, a new employee first told me i would have to do a normal service ticket, and another employee quickly spoke up and they just exchanged my dead one for a replacement off the floor in (the ones you would buy as an “extra” power supply) I was in and out in of the exchange process in under 10 minutes, while the store was packed on a busy weekend.  Not bad at all.

    Nevin had this to say on Jul 14, 2003 Posts: 4
  • I visited the Santa Clara store with a friend a few weeks ago. She wanted to by headphones for her iPod. They had a pair of $250 Bose headphones on display. But the AA batteries were dead. When I asked for new batteries, they said they had none because their requests to corporate for more hadn’t been delivered yet. When I asked why they couldn’t use petty cash to go buy more at the Radio Shack down the Mall alley, they said that they had no petty cash with which to do so. When I volunteered to go buy some, they said they wouldn’t be able to reimburse me for that.

    One of the sales persons told us to go look at that model at the Bose store nearby. We did and she bought an unpowered model for $150 that wasn’t offered at the Apple Store.

    When I went back to the Apple Store and told them, no one seemed upset that they had lost a $250 sale over a pair of 39 AA batteries. There seems to be no sense of DUTY among employees there. No sense of customer comes first. Who ever heard of a business without petty cash for emergency expenses? I think this is an outrage.

    Multimedia had this to say on Jul 15, 2003 Posts: 11
  • There’s no telling how many sales have been lost due to this apathy.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jul 15, 2003 Posts: 54
  • The West County Store in Des Peres, MO. has been nothing but enjoyable for me. I had the same experience at the Store in Germantown, TN.
    People always come up and ask if they can be of assistance…

    lexicon5 had this to say on Jul 16, 2003 Posts: 2
  • I would agree with a poster above - hands off is the way to go. Apple products are high end, design focused… not commodity items that require the soft or even hard sell.

    Those that want help seek it out - and if not, are clearly recognizable by trained sales people. If Apple does not employ good sales people then that is a problem with personnel or HR. And a serious problem for Apple Stores.

    I for one would never buy anything from an Apple store or - why? Taxes, and poor shipping times from

    Going to the Apple store just doesn’t have a unique experience… I walk into a DKNY store, Armani, Prada, Kenneth Cole, Diesel, and I get a similar retail experience (the “ohh, so design-y minimal modern cool” retail experience). Apple Stores just are not compelling enough, in architecture, innovative retailing, sales incentives, nothing. zippo, zilch.

    They should take a chapter from NikeTowns - extremely innovative retailing back in the day, emulate bookstores where a person feels like staying and hanging out, copy Starbuck’s legendary warmness and familiarity. Minus the MoMA aspects of the store, hey… Apple - those that like modern design know about Macs already!! Warm up a bit, be more friendly, and don’t present your products like museum pieces!

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 16, 2003 Posts: 219
  • Apple Stores do not hire sales people, they hire clerks.  That has been my experience at both Denver, CO stores on about 10 visits.  A sales person helps you make a buying decision, a clerk just rings you out when you find what you want.

    I am not calling for a hard sell, just some basic customer service.  I was at the Cherry Creek store this past week, and no one ever even said hello to my wife and we were there for 45 minutes.  I hope they were not assuming since I was already a user and appeared to know what I was doing that did not require a greeting? 

    What ever happened to greeting customers and making them feel welcome?  I use to sell cameras for a local camera chain, not on commision, and still we helped our customers.  The Apple stores offer very poor customer service and I see no reason why anyone would feel compelled to buy anything there.  They seem not to care if you are there or not.  A simple “Hello, how are you doing?” maybe add ” Can I help you find anything in particular?”  If the answer is no, just let the customer know that your name is Joe and let me know if you have any questions/need any help.

    This hands off approach really is bad.  Yopu have a retail store to sell product, not display items.  I wonder how many people might really go in there intending to buy something, and walk out after 5 or 10 minutes?  If I were a potential switcher, I might not ever even consider a Mac after such an experience.

    I plan on taking my mini DV the next time I go, in an attempt to document howmany people walk in and out with no service.  As an Apple fanatic, this poor retail experience really upsets me.  They have a wonderful OS, but they sure can not run an effective retail operation. 

    I am really sad to see this is not just a local issue.

    kingbee had this to say on Jul 16, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Apple has muddled reasons to open retail stores at best - points brought up on the minimum of customer service, sales effort, presentation, etc. go to show just how difficult a retail presence is to have - could Apple stores go the way of the Cube? A great concept on the surface - but so many details that were not fully thought out in execution.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 16, 2003 Posts: 219
  • To be fair - I have had an overall bad experience with MacAdam here in SF, a large independent reseller who is currently suing Apple for unfair reseller competition or whatever it is. Salespeople/clerks at MacAdam proved uninformative, cold, and an unfriendly atmosphere.

    Nathan had this to say on Jul 16, 2003 Posts: 219
  • Unfortunately, to second Nathan’s point, any experiences I have had with resellers have been worse. These people most of the time noly know whether they have a specific model in stock. I have gone to the local CompUSA and have tried to crash the preview model just to see if the sales people knew what was wrong with it. One time, the clerk just said, “It must be a bad model” and then he turned it off. At the very least, Apple Store employees know how to operate the machines.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jul 17, 2003 Posts: 54
  • The only Apple store I’ve visited is the one at 1 Infinite loop. It was typical ‘on-site store’, probably not indicative of the chain. No other Apple store was yet open at the time I visited.

    It’s frustrating to see Apple opening more and more urban stores in the Bay area and the LA basin, but never closer to our Central Coast home. We’re still 3 hours from the nearest Apple store!

    On the other hand, we DO have an excellent reseller in San Luis Obispo ( that gives fantastic customer service and has enough registers to go around…so maybe we’re better off without an Apple store?


    James had this to say on Jul 17, 2003 Posts: 1
  • WOW! Looks like this topic is a hot one. Let me ask, how many of you have worked in or managed a retail store? How about a high-end electronics retailer? I have and let me tell you it is no small task to manage staff appropriately. Half of you complain that everyone was busy and you had to wait while the other half complain that people were standing around, this will happen sometimes even with the best planning. Every time I have gone into an Apple store I have received knowledgeable assistance from a friendly person. Sure I have had to wait, sometimes I have had to approach someone and ask for help, but bar none I have never had more consistent better service at a retailer whether in Texas, New York or Boston. This is far better than the alternative pushy sales people on commission or with quotas to meet or $6 and hour kids with no knowledge or experience.  Have any of you visited a genius bar, talk about service? Its the best I’ve ever seen. Quick turn around, people who don’t speak in all tech code. When is the last time one of you thanked a sales person or manager for doing right, or posted a thread about the great free class you attended? However, I would like to see more women working in the stores. My wife stopped in to one of the stores, and while she was helped the all male staff intimidated her.

    By the way, not just in this thread but a few others some of you complain like Apple owes you something for being a user. They owe you nothing. Except to continue to design and market exceptional products that are cutting edge and user friendly. As long as they do that they have my business, Apple store or not.

    macguy15 had this to say on Jul 19, 2003 Posts: 2
  • Apple does owe us something. They owe us the effort to continue to grow market share. They owe us solid business planning to stay in business. Many statements being made in this thread do not speak to whether they will keep our business though the Apple Stores. If these problems are cropping up at Apple Stores across the country, the question is whether Apple should be spending money on having stores at all. The Apple Stores aggravate resellers, turn-off potential switchers, and cater to the knowledgeable existing Mac-sers. That’s us. That’s why it’s our duty to discuss this. And I agree, there should be more woman employees.

    Gregory Ng had this to say on Jul 19, 2003 Posts: 54
  • I think some people have expressed that they work in retail.  The complaint I hear most is that the employees are busy doing nothing!  And when there is actual business, they are slow to respond. Couple that with less than desirable people skills from some of the employees and you can understand the frustrations.  Read the thread a bit more closer.  As stockholders and buyers, I believe Apple does owe us more accountability and choices in the individuals they shoose to provide the experience in the stores.

    skygrp had this to say on Jul 21, 2003 Posts: 7
  • I agree as stockholders one can argue that apple owes something, but that is not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the old “I’ve been using a Mac since 1984 and apple better listen to me” attitude. As buyers in the store I have never experienced the poor service any of you speak of. If you don’t care for the service, speak to a manager, I bet they would thank you for the feedback. I also wonder if some of you are being overly critical because you are so attached to the product. The initial post was of one experience that by the looks of it had you in the store all of 5 Minutes, and you didn’t even ask for help. Granted that is a missed opportunity for Apple and you should have been acknowledged, but to inspire an “internal rage” seems a tad overreacting. In my travels I stay at some excepptional hotels and even they mess up now and again. The true measure of greta service is how they react when you point it out to them.

    macguy15 had this to say on Jul 21, 2003 Posts: 2
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