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Inside Apple's Retail Store Operation

In the wake of yesterday's announcement regarding Apple retail chief Ron Johnson's pending departure to take the CEO position at department store chain J.C. Penney, The Wall Street Journal publishes an extensive look at the company's retail store operations and philosophy, relying on internal training materials and interviews with former employees to gain a sense of what Apple is doing differently from other companies that has made its retail stores such an overwhelming success.
A look at confidential training manuals, a recording of a store meeting and interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees reveal some of Apple's store secrets. They include: intensive control of how employees interact with customers, scripted training for on-site tech support and consideration of every store detail down to the pre-loaded photos and music on demo devices.
While much of the information has been published in other venues or is simply common knowledge given the company's retail store workforce of 30,000 employees, the extensive report does nicely summarize much of what has gone into developing the Apple retail store experience.
According to several employees and training manuals, sales associates are taught an unusual sales philosophy: not to sell, but rather to help customers solve problems. "Your job is to understand all of your customers' needs - some of which they may not even realize they have," one training manual says. To that end, employees receive no sales commissions and have no sales quotas.
While Apple may not have strict sales quotas in place for its employees, the company does certainly have performance goals for metrics such as "attachment rates", the frequency with which staff members are able to convince customers to add on ancillary products such as AppleCare to their purchases. Staff members who fall short of the goals receive additional sales training or are diverted to other positions within the store.

The report also covers the history of Apple's retail store initiative, noting that it began at a time when Apple was struggling to return to prominence following the return of Steve Jobs and when the company was having a hard time achieving appropriate visibility in third-party retail stores. Even in stores such as CompUSA where Apple had dedicated display areas, the company was frustrated over its inability to control the customer experience.

Consequently, Jobs brought in Gap president Mickey Drexler, who joined Apple's board and assisted with defining the company's retail store goals. Ron Johnson was recruited from Target to lead the effort, and the retail store push began with an extensive period of planning and mockups that ultimately led to the first two stores opening in Tysons Corner, Virginia and Glendale, California in May 2001.

Apple's meticulous attention to detail extends down to its hiring process, where prospective employees generally participate in several rounds of competitive interviews assessing a variety of details including problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, and enthusiasm for Apple products.
Once hired, employees are trained extensively. Recruits are drilled in classes that apply Apple's principles of customer service. Back on the sales floor, new hires must shadow more experienced colleagues and aren't allowed to interact with customers on their own until they're deemed ready. That can be a couple of weeks or even longer.
Apple's retail store chain has already grown to over 325 stores in eleven countries, and the company has been pushing forward on larger and more iconic stores in an ever-growing number of markets, continually extending its reach with what has become one the most successful retail sales models in use today.

Top Rated Comments

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42 months ago

They should work on how annoying it is to have employees blocking the entrances, and asking you if they can help you with anything all the time as soon as you put a foot in the door. It causes tension more than anything on the customer. They should just do what other stores do... If the customer needs help, let them ask for it.

Next time you go to an Apple store, try this: when you walk through the door and they ask you if you need any help, say, "no, thanks, I'm just looking", continue walking to whatever it is you want to look at or play with. This strategy actually works in other retail stores too.
Rating: 9 Votes
42 months ago
Man, attachments are the reason I don't go into retail stores that much. They hate people like me who know what they want and nothing else.
Rating: 8 Votes
42 months ago
This thread is just proving how socially awkward/insecure people really are haha.
Rating: 8 Votes
42 months ago

Most of my experiences at the local Apple Store are negative.

I don't know if it's the people they pick or the way they train them, but they are some of the most smug 'salesman' I've ever been around.

If I wanted to be told how lucky I am to have you help me, I would go to a used car dealership.

Frankly, whenever I hear people (particularly computer types) say that their experiences at any particular place are always negative or that everyone there is 'smug', I tend to look at the customer, not the store.
Rating: 6 Votes
42 months ago

oh my god, are you actually serious? you're saying that it's MY fault that i say "no" in the wrong way/tone?

that sounds rape victims. "hey darlin', i know you said NO to the attacker, but, you really said it in the wrong tone and it's your fault. please re-evaluate how you communicate next time you're attacked"., means no. period. :rolleyes:

I'm not going to pay attention to that absurd analogy.

The fact is, if you cannot convey to a salesman that you aren't interested when you say no to an offer, and they continue to offer, you're doing one of two things wrong. You're either not effectively communicating your position or you're doing yourself a disservice by allowing him to continue ignoring your responses. Your two solutions are to make yourself clear, or walk away.
Rating: 6 Votes
42 months ago

Apple's numbers tell the tale. These stores aren't a retail success story by accident. They don't rake in insane amounts of money because the people who work there make customers feel like garbage, are dishonest, unhelpful, etc.

There's no miracle at work here. The places are well-run and they're effective. If you think there's some other force at play, do let us know.

But I'm sure your personal anecdotes are appreciated.

I wonder why your posts are terribly downrated and you're disrespected on this forum.

It's not that you don't make fan-boyish comments. It's that most of your comments are a sensible read and I don't know why people make a fuss about everything.
Rating: 6 Votes
42 months ago

For that matter, they should take that "solve the customer's problem" to the very end and, if it really sounds like the customer really ought to go buy a Dell PC, then the associate should be free to say so. Despite the doctrine, Macs can't be 100% for everybody..

When you can install Windows on a Mac, there is no reason to buy a Dell other than price. The only way I would recommend a Dell, if I was an Apple employee, would be if the customer walked in with $400 in their pocket expecting to pick up a computer.
Rating: 6 Votes
42 months ago

People work 7 days a week, morning to late night? Maybe you live in a dystopia.

Maybe I do. What reality do you live in where you can tell FedEx to deliver your package only during the evenings, or on the weekend?

I live alone, and I invariably end up driving to the FedEx/UPS/DHL depot to pick up any shipment I receive, since they always arrive at my doorstep between 11:00am to 3:00pm while I am at work. I wish there was an option to say "don't even bother loading it on the delivery truck, just leave it at the depot, phone me the morning it arrives, and I'll come get it".

Either that or I have it sent to my parent's house, where there's usually someone home during the day.
Rating: 5 Votes
42 months ago
wow...i thought this was an isolated thing that happened to me last year when i went to buy a MBAir.

I had already scouted all the versions and knew exactly the one i wanted so when i walked into the store i just said i want the Macbook Air ...with such and such. They guy then starts asking me stuff like "who is it for?", "what are they going to use it for?", "does that person currently own bla bla bla?" ...ultimately i got pissed and asked the guy if there was some reason why i wasnt allowed to just buy the one i was asking for and if i needed to fill some sort of requirement in order for him to allow me to pay him for the computer? then the guy got angry and told me that he considered himself a "salesman" and if he just sells me the machine then he is nothing but a clerk.

ultimately i ended up getting the one i wanted because if was a gift a buddy had asked me to get for his dad but geez i almost turned around and just walked out of there empty handed.
Rating: 5 Votes
42 months ago
Have no sales quotas? Yeah right. When I was there, it was a constant push to sell as much AppleCare, MobileMe and One-to-One as you could. Every daily download was focused on these measures and we never seemed to be good enough. I understand that it's a retail business and that's always going to be a focus. But to say there are no 'quotas' is an exaggeration of the truth. There is a lot of pressure and when they (managers) saw systems going out, there was always the look and sometimes a huddle amongst them if it was going out 'naked'.
Rating: 5 Votes

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