Changes are afoot at the Apple store, which has lost some of its shine, no longer as much a draw for spend-happy suburbanites. The sleek store-fronts that "changed the retail game" back in 2001, saw a $4 billion drop in sales last quarter — the first year-over-year drop since 2009. The novelty of an Apple store at the mall has worn off, and without a head of retail at Apple headquarters, the stores have stagnated. "Since he [Ron Johnson, of JC Penney fame] left, the stores have been basically the same from a customer-service point of view," a former Apple store worker told The Wall Street Journal's Ian Sherr and Joann S. Lublin. Since Johnson left in 2011, Apple has left the retail business unattended by an official leader and it's starting to show.
In addition to cutting back on basic supplies, like paper, pens, and replacement logo stamped T-shirt uniforms, Apple has asked workers to focus on sales rather than customer service. "The company's internal communications shifted to sales from a focus on customer service — an experience that Apple had finely tuned," Sherr and Lublin write. Staff assigned to the Genius Bar were told to hit the sales floor in between classes, for example. Genius Bar employees don't bring in that many buyers, and the time spent with them doesn't always result in a purchase.
Part of the Apple Store's appeal, however, has been that customer-relations experience and there are some indications that shoppers have begun to notice the change. Customer satisfaction surveys have started to drop, say employees. Back in 2010, Apple topped such retail satisfaction surveys. Now, people find themselves sympathizing with an irate woman in an Apple store screaming at an Apple employee,. "I know we're supposed to side against this woman because going off on a store employee is a super shitty thing to do, but come on — have you ever been to the Genius Bar?" Jezebel's Madeline Davies wrote along with the viral Vine below.
There are signs that that same-old-same-old and not-so-special feeling is affecting other parts of Apple's brand, too. A recent American Customer Satisfaction Index survey put Samsung above Apple now. The lack of all new exciting products inside Apple's well-designed retail boxes might indeed have something to do with the general lack of interest in the store. Popping into the Apple to to kill time with Macbook Airs just isn't that fun anymore. And many major electronics companies sell their products from pristine storefronts, lining up customers outside their doors during big product launches, while the Apple Store hasn't offered much of anything new since it started using iPads for signs in 2011.
"Apple needs to recreate and reinvent its once novel retail model, which is now not so novel," Craig Johnson, the head of Customer Growth Partners, told The Wall Street Journal. Hopefully that change will come in a form more exciting than pushing sales over customer-service.