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.

Peter Cohen