My Macbook Pro has had multiple battery problems this year. It’s been a bummer but the genius bar at the SoHo store has helped immensely. I scheduled my appointments in advance using the online reservation system, received help from friendly staffers, and was given two brand new batteries at no charge. I was annoyed by the problems, but the level of support definitely helped turn a negative situation into one that at least makes me feel like Apple’s got my back. It’s really reassuring to know I can go somewhere and get instant help if/when the shit hits the fan.
According to “Inside Apple Stores, a Certain Aura Enchants the Faithful,” I’m not alone in feeling this way. The article describes how personal attention is driving tons of growth at Apple’s stores.
(Some numbers: Apple’s stock is up nearly 135 percent for the year. 20 percent of its revenue comes from its physical stores and that number is growing: The stores accounted for $1.25 billion of Apple’s $6.2 billion in revenues in 2007’s fourth quarter, a 42 percent increase over the previous year.)
The article suggests attentive staff may be the stores’ secret weapon.
But the secret formula may be the personal attention paid to customers by sales staff. Relentlessly smiling employees roam the floor, carrying hand-held terminals for instant credit-card swiping. Technicians work behind the so-called genius bar, ministering to customers’ ailing iPods, MacBooks and iPhones. Others, designated “personal trainers,” give one-on-one instruction and lead workshops.
Personal shoppers are available by appointment, and last month the company took the concept of personalized service to a new level, with concierge teams stationed throughout each store.
“They’ve become the Nordstrom of technology,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research, referring to the department store that is known for its service.
Ron Johnson, Apple’s senior vice president for retail, said he believed the high level of service played a large role in the success of the stores.
“The idea is that while people love to come to retail stores, and they do it all the time, what they really appreciate the most is that undivided personal attention,” Mr. Johnson said. The result is far fewer qualms among consumers about paying premium prices: $30 for an iPhone case, $200 for an iPod Nano or $1,200 for a computer.
The article also includes an anecdote about a would-be author who wrote her manuscript at the SoHo store.
Apple stores encourage a lot of purchasing, to be sure. But they also encourage lingering, with dozens of fully functioning computers, iPods and iPhones for visitors to try — for hours on end.
The policy has given some stores, especially those in urban neighborhoods, the feel of a community center. Two years ago, Isobella Jade was down on her luck, living on a friend’s couch and struggling to make it as a fashion model when she had the idea of writing a book about her experience as a short woman trying to break into the modeling business.
Unable to afford a computer, Ms. Jade, 25, began cadging time on a laptop at the Apple store in the SoHo section of Manhattan. Ms. Jade spent hours at a stretch standing in a discreet corner of the store, typing. Within a few months, she had written nearly 300 pages.
Not only did store employees not mind, but at closing time they often made certain to shut Ms. Jade’s computer down last, to give her a little extra time. A few months later, the store invited her to give an in-store reading from her manuscript.
One analyst sums up the stores’ success this way: “Everything about it works.”
“Whenever we ask consumers to cite a great retail experience, the Apple store is the first store they mention,” said Jane Buckingham, president of the Intelligence Group, a market research firm in Los Angeles. “Basically, everything about it works. The people who work there are cool and knowledgeable. They have the answers you want, and can sell you what you need. Customers appreciate that. Even the fact that they’ll e-mail you a receipt makes you feel like you’re in a store just a little bit further ahead of everyone else.”