Recent Apple Retail screw-ups rumored not to be solved, emblematic of larger, post-Jobs problem

Recent Apple Retail gaffs rumored not to be solved, emblematic of larger, post-Jobs problem

While new Apple Retail head John Browett reportedly apologized and reversed recent staffing decisions that threatened the phenomenal experience of Apple Stores, it's now being rumored that the apologies weren't exactly sincere, weren't actually given to the staff, and may reflect a new, more profit-oriented, less customer-centric, direction instigated by Apple CEO Tim Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer.InfoAppleStore rounds up what they've heard:

After Browett’s reversal, insiders say that everyone who had been dismissed was indeed rehired, and inter-store transfers were again approved. However, the number of in-store workshops at some stores has been reduced, sources say, overtime is still limited, demotions were not reversed, and managers are assigning only minimum contracted hours to part-timers. One tipster even claimed Apple has stopped printing the monthly workshop schedules that have been available at high-profile stores for many years.

And as to why it's happening:

But in 2009, Jobs took six months of medical leave and put Tim Cook in charge of the company, including the retail stores. Cook is primarily an “operations guy,” sources explain, and his natural focus is revenues and profits, not customers. While Jobs was away, Cook and chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer began to confront Johnson on his customer-centric retail philosophy—both felt the stores didn’t generate enough revenues to justify operating expenses.

Which seems counter to everything Apple, including everything Apple under Tim Cook, stands for. Hopefully it's not the case. Hopefully Cook, Oppenheimer, and Browett ascribe to the same principles for Apple Retail that Steve Jobs and former retail head Ron Johnson did, that Apple does for everything from iOS and Mac hardware to the most minute of icon details.

Apple's primary weapon against competitors has been experience. I walk into an Apple Store and, even though it's packed, there's a ton of staff and my needs get seen to quickly and expertly. I walk into a Best Buy and it's a wasteland, with entire sections devoid of any staff to the degree that I've often walked out without getting any service.

Apple Retail is one of Apple's crown jewels and one of the most important elements in their resurgence and success. I can't imagine any Apple executive would risk messing with it for any reason.

Take care of the top line and the bottom line will take care of itself was an oft-repeated statement from Steve Jobs. Take care of Apple Retail, and it'll take care of Apple.

Source: InfoAppleStore

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 26 comments. Add yours.

HappySurfer says:

I seriousely hope this is all nonsense because I just put in my app for a part time position.

FlopTech says:

Re: "Apple Retail is one of Apple's crown jewels and one of the most important elements in their resurgence and success."

Agree. Apple shouldn't be penny-pinching in such an important customer-facing area. Each Apple store, on average, generates more revenue per square foot than Tiffany's and more revenue per store than the average Best Buy. No need to resort to hard-sell tactics.

6dean9 says:

Coming from the UK and having been on the receiving end of Mr.Browetts customer service beliefs via Dixons and Currys, it does not surprise me that Apple could be heading in the same direction. The hard sell around warranties, staff encouraged to take a militant approach to selling add ons and achieving the extras at any cost. The result - I no longer shop at either stores. Apple beware. The old adage of leopards and spots springs to mind !!

muzikmyke says:

A little bit of insight....I worked at the Apple store for about 7 months, which included the period of the iPad 3G and iPhone 4 launch. The hard selling of "metrics" is not something that's new to this head of retail, it was the same when Ron Johnson was the head. At the time I worked there the hard sells were Apple Care, One to One and MobileMe. Because of that I don't think metrics is the thing that everybody should be worried about. It's the mindset of fewer employees for a bottom line that scares me the most if this is true. That type of "bottom-line-is-the-most-important-thing" mindset will most certainly trickle down from leadership into the store experience. Fewer employees means less time with customers, which means pushing a sell to maximize employees time......not liking this at all.

claustin says:

I agree. I worked for Apple retail during the 1st iPhone launch, and while I found their back office metrics practices to be at odds with their customer first front, it really was about the customer. The quality of people and business practices they're bringing in is severely troubling. I'm starting to think Forstall can't take over soon enough.

johnolesen says:

Retail is retail, and while some companies (Apple) do a better job of focusing on the customers than others (hhgregg), every retail has metrics they want their reps to push. I've worked for Sears, Walmart, HHGregg, Verizon, US Cellular and Sprint-and every place has had their own things they want to push. It's nothing new. Sears it was the extended warrantys. Walmart was the credit card. HHGregg was just getting you to buy any of their shitty products. Verizon? Tablets & HPCs, USC? Insurance. Sprint? HPC's. The list goes on and on and on. Especially for extended warranties like AppleCare. It's retail 101 to push the hell out of them.

I just hope Apple doesnt go the route of an HHGregg, where they only focus on the warranties and not the overall experience.

jbrandonf says:

Thanks but the article said just that.

SteveW928 says:

"... may reflect a new, more profit-oriented, less customer-centric, direction ..."

Great article Rene and I agree... I hope not as well. However, I'd add that a number of product-line decisions also seem to point in this direction. They seem to be making decisions about which products to focus on and produce based on sales numbers, rather than how they effect the whole Apple eco-system.

The thing is though, this is Business-101. What was unique about Jobs is that he wasn't typical Business-101. That's why Apple is so successful. Business-101 is a mess these days.

"Take care of the top line and the bottom line will take care of itself..."
Exactly, but it won't maximize profits. Therein lies the problem with modern business. They simply don't understand economics any longer.

I'll join you, then, in hoping Apple doesn't fall into the trap of Business-101 (but, I'll have to be honest that I won't be holding my breath... at least not long-term).

rmwb says:

Another decision that seems to point in this direction is Apple withdrawing funding for the AUC this month http://auc.edu.au/about/ ... after ~28 years of philanthropic work at Australasian Universities, Apple has suddenly become a penny pincher... The AUC has funded my trips to WWDC & MacWorld Expo as well as sending me on numerous Apple training courses... turning me from a Windows Sysadmin into a total fanboi... They will be dearly missed...
I wonder if anyone in Hollywood is also seeing a reduction in the traditional philanthropic hardware donations they have had for decades...

Rob White says:

Note that if this story rings true, & I see you have a few who have worked at Apple retail or under John Browett that say it might be, this puts your article on Tim Cook from 2 days ago in a different context. But fear not. If this is true, it only demonstrates what happens to every company that has a meteoric rise. The little details that made them so special to so many become overlooked & taken for granted. Apple would be no different than others before them.

west3man says:

How is that a reason NOT to be fearful?

Rob White says:

Oh don't misunderstand. I'm not saying Apple shouldn't be concerned. I'm only saying that many companies before Apple have let their reputations slip once they reached the top of the food chain. So this story isn't unique. Maybe Apple will right the ship in time. We'll see how it plays out.

cardfan says:

Coming soon: Cook realizes there's money to be made by not allowing you to share apps with a single itunes account.

scottalg says:

I hope this is just a "phase"...one of the main reasons I've migrated to the Apple world from Windows and BB is the "experience" one gets from Apple. This starts at the stores with the wonderful customer experience, extends to their website which is user friendly to the packaging of their products, everything was about the customer! Please be a "phase" they emerge from...

Dark_Blu says:

This is the thing I feared would happen when Jobs passed- That Cook is a "bottom line" type of guy who's focus is supply chain, sales, and profits, not customer experience. This puts the Samsung trial an an entirely different light. It wasn't about trying to keep a competitor from copying design or patents. It was about keeping a competitor from interfering with profits. And as mentioned, this is what product line updates are all about as well. So we can't really count on any innovation beyond retina screens and Siri because investing in R&D at minimal levels almost guarantees higher profits, provided that the entranced zealots somehow overlook that Jobs is gone and that Cook lacks vision, charisma, and Mojo. It's highly likely that the iPhone 5 will in fact be an iPhone 4 rehash with very little beyond a slightly larger retina screen, Siri enhancements, and Apple maps, which is likely to underwhelm. Sad. The Mojo is gone. The Koolaid trance is over.

ak7834 says:

let's be honest about it, although we all dislike this fact, no more Jobs means no more Apple (at least Apple as we all love it, user centric...). There's just too much money involved for the management to take the risk to let someone innovative take over Jobs'job.

Jeff Kibuule says:

Something tells me the discretion for an unofficial free hardware replacement isn't long for this world.

Baysic says:

"no longer consumer driven but profit driven"....umm, do you know apple? They are nothing BUT profit driven. When your profit on an item is substantially higher than the production costs, erm all apple devices, you do NOT care about your consumer.

west3man says:

I'm not sure about that. It may mean that they believe they provide a superior product and experience and bear the burden of innovation costs, so the final products and service are worth that premium price.

I think this is where we establish our non-bias to avoid flames. I use Apple products that work best for me and mine, but am not slavish in devotion. I don't care for the increasing heights of the walled garden. As a result, I may never own a Mac. If I do, it will probably be because my professional needs pushed me in that direction or pc's did.

I wouldn't mind being able to AirPlay from my laptop, though.

chris.lenderman says:

I agree. Although I would argue that Apple has NEVER been customer driven, as it was (Steve) Jobs driven, then profit driven.

When Jobs was at the helm, Apple made devices that were specifically tailored to him. Oftentimes that coincided with what customers wanted; but lets be real here: If Jobs didn't want it, it wasn't going to happen.

rdrum says:

The customer facing elements of any company are critical to its success - this is no secret. It's retail operations are one of the reasons that Apple grew to be so popular. The idea of being able to go into just about any Apple store and receive the same, high-level of customer service has always been a draw for me. I worked in retail for quite some time in my younger days and I appreciate the effort that the company has gone through to maximize the customer experience (through store design, staffing, etc.).

I agree with Rene that it's virtually impossible to get service at Best Buy (not that I really want serviced there because I find the staff generally clueless about the products, but that says more about their management than the individual reps). The problem I've seen lately is that even though the Apple store that I tend to go to in my town (we have two) is well-staffed, my last three visits (within the last couple of months) have been customer service free. I made it past the door, shopped around and walked out without being approached by a single rep. I'm hoping that this isn't a sign of things to come.

Behshad says:

The service you get at Apple store today is much worse than it was a year ago. Seems like their new ways to train their staff to obtian maximum profit has in a way changed the worker's attitude an they're not nearly as friendly as they used to be.

mech1164 says:

What is that old line "I if you don't learn from the Past you are doomed to repeat them". I was hoping that Cook even though a very good bean counter had learned from Jobs why doing things different made money for them. He's falling into the same trap the Scully did the First time Jobs left. You would think someone there gets it. Sad but no.

I was there in the Last years of CompUsa before the bad times when a pc could be 3k and no one blinked. The the penny pinching began, Upsell at all cost, cut staff, there better be a warranty on that or else SELL SELL SELL!!! You know where that got us bankrupt and out of work. You can lie to people for awhile but we catch on soon. Next year is going to be interesting for Apple and not in a good way. It's sad just plain sad.

Runswithscissors#IM says:

I have to say that while I'm not the biggest Apple fan in the world, I had an Apple store experience the other day that is making me take a second look when iPhone 5 is announced. My coworker's i4S headphone jack stopped working, and the phone thought headphones were plugged in when they weren't. He was really swamped, so he asked me if I minded dropping by the Apple store since I was headed that way. Ok, no prob.
He made a Genius Bar appt for 9:20. I walked in at 9:19; at 9:33, I was getting back into my vehicle with a new i4S in hand, thanks to his Apple Care. That, my friends, cannot be rivaled, I don't care what people say.
That kind of experience is going a long way toward piquing my interest in iPhone 5.

Slyrobber says:

I personally would start looking for the next insanely great company to fanboy if Apple showed signs that it was loosing it's heart and soul and would just become another corperate drone. I already pay a premium for their products. If I loose what I pay for in phylosophy and usability then astalavista Apple.

Don't screw this up Cooke et Al.

Sly

extrication says:

Without Apple's strong connection to consumers they run the risk of becoming Best Buy. Amazon is more than willing to exploit any weakness Apple can produce. With $100B in the bank, cutting corners at retail will be communicated as greed. Consumers punish flagrantly greedy corporations.