Ron Johnson Says People Come to Apple For The Experience

Ron Johnson, the architect behind the Apple Retail Stores, has moved on to be CEO of JC Penney. But, he still remembers the lessons he learned while at Apple.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Johnson reflects on what makes the Apple Store unique:
People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they're willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important — and this is something that can translate to any retailer — is that the staff isn't focused on selling stuff, it's focused on building relationships and trying to make people's lives better. That may sound hokey, but it's true. The staff is exceptionally well trained, and they're not on commission, so it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you're happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it's a product Apple doesn't carry. Compare that with other retailers where the emphasis is on cross-selling and upselling and, basically, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don't want or need it. That doesn't enrich their lives, and it doesn't deepen the retailer's relationship with them. It just makes their wallets lighter.
Perhaps as a hint toward the direction he intends to take JC Penney, Johnson ends by noting that "the retailers that win the future are the ones that start from scratch and figure out how to create fundamentally new types of value for customers."



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71 months ago
Now, it's up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare
minimum. Well, like Brian, for example, has 37 pieces of flair. And a
terrific smile.
Rating: 16 Votes
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71 months ago
not entirely true.. Apple up sells as well.. they have always tried to get me to purchase AppleCare with every product I've purchased.. same was true with the old MobileMe..
Rating: 10 Votes
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71 months ago
that's true...I remember working back at CompUSSR that the mentality there was to cross sell and up sell. If a person only wanted a laptop or desktop and nothing else, no printer, software, cables, service plan, etc. to get them to leave the store - They didn't want their business. They only wanted the multi orders with service plans that brought them in lots of cash. I hated doing that to customers. After asking them if they wanted a service plan 3 times and having the Tech manager try to convince them of the same thing, most customers would just leave, frustrated and go across to Best Buy. Guess we know why CompUSA went out of business....

At Apple, it is great. They don't pressure you into anything. If you want something, they give it to you. If you don't want something, they don't heckle you 18 times before they get the picture....
Rating: 8 Votes
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71 months ago
Apple retails stores have, by a quite comfortable margin, the highest per-square-foot sales of any company in the retail industry.

They must be doing something right, and that includes probably more than just having good products.

For everyone complaining about getting cross-sold AppleCare, there's somebody else raving about how he or she just picked up a second (or third) MacBook "with no questions asked" I'm personally not a big fan of any "extended warranty" program - but they do serve to give people who need it some sort of peace of mind. Apple would be remiss if they didn't have store employees at least mention it. There is a definite line between explaining a products' features, and badgering a customer - and I think in most cases Apple Store employees stay on the right side of it.

I rarely pass an Apple Store without at least ducking inside, even if I've no intention of buying anything. I'm not ashamed to say that I frequently use the in-store wi-fi to send e-mails, or use one of the display units to browse the web. I'm sure *some* people take advantage of Apple's policy - but they are far outweighed by the positive relationship it builds with people.

One thing I've noticed about Apple Stores: There always seems to be a positive energy going on. On a Tuesday morning, in the middle of a recession, the store is filled with people tapping away at iMacs and iPads, grooving to the iPods and snapping pictures with the iPhones.

I can't imagine Microsoft, let alone Google or Samsung, being able to pull off that kind of trick. Even if they hired Jonny Ive to design their products, they'd still find a way to dork up the retail experience.
Rating: 5 Votes
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71 months ago
Love not being hounded
Rating: 4 Votes
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71 months ago
I recall threads here on the pressure for Apple sales reps to "attach" AppleCare, One-to-One and MobileMe (formerly) so I call Bravo Sierra.
Rating: 4 Votes
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71 months ago

I met Mr. Johnson in person in 2009 and found him to be a really great guy. Attentive listener and all smiles. Frankly I was a tad nervous - he was a senior Apple executive. As the lead website designer and product owner, I was asked to give him a demo of our B&H iPhone app which I was just finishing designing. It was a rare treat to be able to interact with Mr. Johnson/Apple on a level I've never before or since.

B&H sells an awful lot of Apple products. The B&H in-store experience, fine tuned over 35 years, is something I've always wondered if Apple might have taken a lot of inspiration from?

1. Don't sell; inform, educate, entertain
2. No commission sales staff
3. Offer a wide variety of stuff
4. Train staff very well
5. Create a cool store

All these things are what make an Apple store great. So kudos to Mr. Johnson on his appt to CEO of J.C. Penney. He's a class act.


I agree with all except one.. B&H is not a "cool" store. Don't get me wrong, it's great. I'm a pro photographer and I buy most of my stuff from that store. But shopping there is kind of like going through customs at JFK.
Rating: 3 Votes
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71 months ago
I have extensive retail experience and they are spot on with their approach. I have always had an issue with hardcore sales especially in retail. Commissioned sales is not the customers friend. The worst part is these organizations promote their best sales people to be managers and being good at sales and managing people are two different skill sets. They hamstring themselves.

What is worse is someone like RadioShack who is just a sales organization. Commissioned sales drives every expect of their business. They even have internal sales people who get bonuses on getting stores to "order" certain products. Their managers are only top sales people. Caring about the customer is irrelevant

Apples massive retail success will impact the way a lot of businesses interact with customers, in a good way
Rating: 3 Votes
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71 months ago
Extended Warranty


At Apple, it is great. They don't pressure you into anything. If you want something, they give it to you. If you don't want something, they don't heckle you 18 times before they get the picture....

I was at the Dicks Sporting store and someone ahead of me was buying an Olympic Weight Set. The sales person was trying to sell him extended warranty. But I guess that is where the most money made.

I kept wondering what can go wrong with the the weight set...
Rating: 3 Votes
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71 months ago

Gonna go ahead and disagree here...I hate going into the Apple store.

The employees are not "educated" at all, I dare say they don't even know what "RAM" stands for. Apple is a group of "diverse" individuals (because we all know diverse = multiple ethnicities) dressed to look trendy and pretty much programmed to spout off predetermined lines to the customers.

I've been in plenty of stores and they are so overstaffed that its like walking into a Vultures nest each visit. Nothing pisses me off more than to tell one of the associates I don't need help selecting an iPhone case only to have another one come on over and try to evaluate my needs again. And no, I don't want to pay $100 a year for your stupid one-to-one program.


1) It's true that Apple Store employees are not all technical geniuses. And that's really not what Apple is looking for anyway. They're looking for sharp, friendly, outgoing people - and that's 95%+ of Apple Store employees. Geniuses are there if you want to match wits about acronyms. But really, it makes sense - is everyone at The Gap tailors and seamstresses? Auto dealers don't necessarily know the ins and outs of your car like a mechanic would. Specialists (the Apple blue shirt people) are there to connect you with the right product and get out of the way.

2) Overstaffed? In the words of Jay Pritchett from Modern Family, "Champagne problems..." If there seem to be too many employees, it is probably because Apple Stores get huge rushes of people. I went at 12:45 (prime lunch time) and expected it to be empty. Nope - 30+ customers in store, 5 or so in line for iPhone 4Ss, a dozen or so employees out front, with more in the back! Whether you have too many employees or too few, someone will always find something to complain about..."I got too much help!" :rolleyes:
Rating: 3 Votes
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