A short-lived experiment in self-service at the Apple Store
In its own way, Apple's retail initiative has been as much a success as the iPod. Since 2001, Apple has opened just under 200 stores, with another 40 scheduled for 2008. The stores utterly dominate comparable outlets like Best Buy in terms of annual sales per square foot—even stores that sell luxury goods like Tiffany & Company. No doubt the competition must look upon the success of Apple Retail with befuddlement, and possibly bitter envy (*cough* Sony Style *cough*), but maybe there is hope. Alex Frankel, author of Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee, put on the black shirt and walked the beneath those unflinching white lights to report on what Apple is doing right. We touched on Frankel's report in last week's Apple links, but felt like it was worth a deeper look.
In the process, I learned that Apple Stores, with their aura of cool, were in fact living up to their mission to "reinvent retail" and setting a high bar for other companies in the retail world.
What does Apple do that's different? It begins with
indoctrination orientation via podcasts that teach the basic sales approach, followed by shadowing veteran employees on the floor.
They explained to customers that they had some questions to understand their needs, got permission to fire away, and then kept digging to ascertain which products would be best. Position, permission, probe.
Shouldn't you ask permission before you position someone, though? I digress. Not surprisingly, at the Apple Store, it's about the experience and being comfortable, right down to the casual friendliness of employees dressed out of a PC and Mac commercial. Unfortunately, no training program or sloganeering could possibly work as well at other chains for a very simple reason, that being where the Apple Store employee comes from.
Like most of my coworkers, I'm already a loyal fan of the company, so starting this job will take my interest to the next level. I'm working as a Mac specialist at the Apple Store.
That is something Dell, or Sony, or Microsoft will never be able to duplicate—an army of evangelists who are already thinking different. Just give them their t-shirt and lanyard, maybe a pair of black-and-white Nikes, and watch them sell. Sure, not every employee is devoted to the Mac Way, but that's just separating the wheat from the chaff, and there's more than enough wheat to fill 200 stores. You won't be seeing self-serve registers at the 200th Apple Store, and not at the 2000th either.