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Why I won't be sad to see One to One go away: It's a money-loser for retail stores

A rumor surfaced this week that Apple's excising its One to One program at its retail store in favor of expanding the free group workshops program. One to One allows owners of new Macs and other devices to purchase a year's worth of weekly, personalized training with Apple specialists in Apple retail stores at a steal of a price: $99. If One to One does indeed go away, I can understand why. It's very expensive for stores to do, and many customers can get effective training other ways.

Serenity Caldwell recently shared her experiences as a past Apple Store employee who did One to One training. Amidst some touching anecdotes about her customers and experiences doing the training, she said, "That program may not make sense for Apple retail anymore. The stores are getting bigger and more crowded, and personalized training was always a harder sell in noisy, rambunctious environments."

Anyone who's been in an Apple retail store over the past few years knows what Ren's talking about. Apple retail stores are crazy busy. Apple wants to maximize the profit for each of its locations, so it puts them in heavily trafficked areas and hasn't expanded their footprint to new locations dramatically unless demographics show that areas can support additional stores. The net result is that the Apple Store has gotten busier and busier. With few exceptions, locations like that just aren't a good learning experience.

The retail store where I work, while not owned by Apple, is authorized by Apple to sell and service much of their gear. We're located almost an hour's drive by highway from the closest Apple-owned store. There are other places in the area to buy Apple gear: Best Buy, Walmart, Target. But for personalized sales and service, many people are much more comfortable coming to us.

Apple has set customer expectations, and some of our customers expect to get the same deals they can get from an Apple store.

One of the first things they'll tell me is, "I'm not a computer person." I already knew that, for the most part: After all, they're in a computer store. "Computer people" haven't set foot in computer stores unless it's an emergency ever since the Internet hit the scene. Customers are often amazed that we don't have a line at the service counter, and that they don't need to make an appointment. Our volume is lower — a lot lower than the Apple Store.

Still, Apple has set customer expectations, and some of our customers expect to get the same deals they can get from an Apple store. So to keep pace with what Apple has done, we also offer a $99 deal for buyers of new Macs and iPads: Ten individual one-hour training sessions to use over the course of a year. While most of our customers turn it down, some new converts to Apple platforms and people who are, frankly, timid with the technology, do take advantage of it.

We also, by the way, offer free seminar-style introductory classes, just as the rumor currently suggests Apple is going to continue to do once the One to One program has run its course. Many people on the fence about buying new gear attend those, to make sure they'll be comfortable with their new products. Some new buyers do too, just to make sure they've got down the basics.

Spending $500 on a new iPad or $1000 on a new Mac can be a really intimidating experience for a lot of people, especially older customers on fixed incomes who may not be as comfortable with technology as their kids and grandkids. That's who our own training caters to the most. We have very few customers buying the training who aren't already eligible for AARP benefits at least, if not Social Security.

Apple makes its computers and portable devices very easy to use, but let's not deceive ourselves: Even Apple products can still be overwhelming, confusing and just plain scary for many. For them, One to One assistance and other individualized training is really helpful.

The problem is that individualized training purchased as a package is a money-loser for the store. We're not compensated by Apple for training customers in any way. When a customer buys the $99 deal from us, they're getting customized training for $10 an hour, which doesn't even cover the employee's wages.

We have to offer training to keep customers, but we're not a social welfare agency.

I certainly appreciate that people are looking to get the most out of the expensive technology they purchase, and I appreciate that some people who want or need this gear don't have a lot of discretionary income to throw around.

Right now Apple's One to One pricing doesn't let us do that. We have to offer training to keep customers, but we're not a social welfare agency. We have to make enough money to pay employees, keep the lights on, and put enough in the owner's pockets to make the business operation worthwhile. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for us to see it go away.

Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, not the management or ownership of the third-party Apple-authorized retailer where I work.

11 Comments
  • Now they will stop taking up half of the public tables at my local mall that are intended for people who have bought food and drinks from the businesses there.
  • While I understand completely what you're saying about employees wages and such. There is something to be said about added benefits to help with a purchase decision. For example, if your store did not offer the one on one customer support what would make you any different than the big box stores?
    Companies need to find a way that sets them apart from each other in order to thrive. Just my opinion of course, Apple can, and will do this but they have other perks to fall back on. Genius bar, award winning customer service just to name a couple.
    When I make purchasing decisions, no matter how small I like to take in the company as a whole. Want to offer me a free tire rotation with an oil change? Sure sounds good to me. It's a win win, I get a tire rotation, and the company making the offer has a better opportunity to up sale me on maintenance they may not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.
    I can see a win in the scenario as the one on one training as well, if approached appropriately. "Let me teach you how to do this", you see this would work a little bit easier with the addition of x,y,z. Bam Up sale, the 10 dollar an hour spent on the training time may not cover the cost of the employees time, but the couple of hundred dollars worth of additional accessories could easily cover that and then more.
    You're not going to sell to everyone that you come across, there will be people that just want the $99 one on one, and that is okay. If you're not trying to turn that $99 into something more for your company your missing out on a great opportunity. Anyways, if it doesn't make sense in your industry, or at your location it doesn't make sense. I don't shop there, doesn't really matter to me one way or the other. P.S. There is a term used to describe what we are talking about, Loss Leader, offer the loss leader in order to get people in the door, without customers you're definitely not going to make more money.
  • I have been a buyer of One To One every time I've bought a Mac over the last 15 years. And I've bought them on a biannual basis. The product is the finest service Apple provides after the products themselves. I'm sorry it will be gone. I'm anxious to see how the "free" training will be handled. I'm sure knowing Apple it will be top drawer. But frankly I will miss the individual attention.
  • Why would you need further training every time you buy a MAC?
  • I think training is important for people who need it. But Apple's set the price, and we can't match it unless we're willing to lose money, which is not the best way to stay in business so we can continue to support our customers. My hope is that if Apple does discontinue One to One, we can recalibrate our pricing structure in a more fair way.
  • Last year, I purchased the $99 plan directly from the Apple store. I used it once, where I got 50 minutes of training from an employee I would speculate was making $20 per hour. They didn't even use a dedicated training room-- they just plopped me down at a table in the middle of the very noisy, busy store. The trainer was great, the experience- not so much. I also bought $100 worth of accessories while there, generating maybe $30 in gross margins for the store, so they definitely did not lose money on me. The nearby independent Apple dealer charges $99 per hour for training / support, but will train me when I want, where I want, covering my specific issues (as opposed to low-level, generalized, free training Apple offers). There's the facts, you decide.
  • Holy $h!t. $99 per lesson? The least they could do is give you that.
  • It will be a shame to see a service like this go away, as these sort of things are extra factors that make buying a Mac more approachable for new customers. In the long run, it probably makes the company more money because it creates "promoters": customers that evangelize Apple products and services to their friends and family, thereby creating more customers. Apple training is heavily focused on doing things to create these promoters (and yes, this is the exact term it uses to describe these people). In addition, I've never known the One to One program to limit a customer to 10 sessions in a year. As someone who occasionally taught these classes (in between what seemed like 8 hours of fixing broken iPhone screens), we allowed a customer to schedule a 30 minute one to one, a 60 minute one to one, and a group training session every week for as long as their membership lasted. That's potentially 150+ training sessions in one year; definitely a huge value for the customer! =)
  • On the other hand, Apple shouldn't be overly concerned about, "keeping the lights on." Some things aren't about profit margin.
  • In Apple's case I don't think it is about that as much as it is about making better use out of the limited space in their already overcrowded stores. For independent Apple retailers, it is a dollars and cents issue.
  • Good point... I have to keep in mind that most of the Apple stores aren't like the downtown S.F. one (which I used to work about a block away from). Still, I think the genius bar, lessons, and one-to-one stuff has, at least in part, lead to that popularity. The success (or not) of 3rd party stores specializing in Apple stuff is a whole other ball of wax.