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The Apple Store Shopping Experience

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Over the past few weeks I’ve had to make multiple trips to my local Apple store to pick up this, that, and the other. I’m the typical guy in that I when I go shopping I don’t actually “shop.” I go in, get what I need, and get out as fast as possible.

At most stores this is easy to do…except for Apple stores.

I’ve yet to actually need any help from an employee in the Apple stores. I know exactly what I want and I just want to purchase it and get back to my office to use it. But it would seem Apple doesn’t care to actually have a set checkout spot. No place to to get in line and buy stuff. Nothing. You just have to aimlessly wander around the store and hope to A) get approached by a free employee or B) randomly pick an employee that’s helping someone and follow them around until they’re done.

I honestly don’t understand how this entire setup is a good idea. Sure I get that they want you to interact with the employees so they can hopefully sell you more stuff…but what about the people like me who just need to go in and buy something? I spent almost 15 minutes the other day in fairly uncrowded Apple store just waiting for an employee to free up so I guy by an adapter.

Yes, I’m ranting a bit here. But I really am curious what benefit Apple sees in setting up the store like this. Are all Apple stores like this? Or did I just luck out with the one closest to me?

56 Responses to “The Apple Store Shopping Experience”

  1. The three stores near me have no registers either. It is the most annoying thing in the world. Like you I just want to run in, buy something and leave. Nope, sorry, not possible.

    After switching from PCs recently (after 30 years) I was very used to being able run into a Best Buy or the like grab something and go. Now it seems I *have* to go to the apple store and deal with their idea of customer service. Bah.

  2. Well, I’ve been to several stores across the southeastern US and northeastern US and have never really encountered that problem. There is always a counter that has at least 2 people standing at it, or if you prefer the example of the Fifth Ave. Store in Manhattan, 15 people waiting to check you out.

    But nevertheless, there have always been employees with the credit/debit swipe machines either in their pockets or on their hands when the store gets extremely busy or overwhelming.

  3. DeVon McDougal

    No every apple store is that way, i once went into the Sacramento store to buy a itunes gift card for a friends kids and i waited 12 minutes and it seemed everyone was oblivious to me. Ive been to stores in Sacramento CA, Reno Nv, Las Vegas Nv, Towson Md and Los Angeles and they are all the same. oh yeah back to the experience i was getting mad at the wait and decided to stop at wal greens on the way home…….who needs that damned nifty little apple bag.

  4. Stephanie Guertin

    While the two Apple stores I frequent (Boston CambridgeSide and Knoxville) have checkouts, there’s never anyone at them. They’ve lost my business several times in the past because I couldn’t go in and buy something without waiting for an employee to wander my way.

  5. Your post prompted me to finally post on the subject. I’ve been meaning to for awhile.

    I see many advantages to the new approach, but the fact that there is no obvious checkout line (they have a cash register in the front, but it’s only used when somebody wants to pay with cash or check) has been a source of much annoyance.

    Some Apple stores have plenty of staff, while others barely have enough. The store in Tucson appears to be one that barely has enough, as there is never anyone available when I want to buy something.

  6. @ Mustang. I have given cash to a ‘mobile’ employee, but like Josh, I find this whole set up rather annoying. When I’m at Steve’s House (the Apple Store) I know what I want and just want to get it and go.

  7. Mustang

    Every Apple Store has at least one “traditional” checkout machine, because the handheld checkouts (I think they’re called “EZ Pay”) cannot accept cash or checks.

    One store near me has the original configuration: 3 iMac checkout at the front, Genius Bar in the back and lots of roamers with EZ Pay units; the other has the new configuration: 2 iMac checkouts in the rear, Genius bar on the side with lots of roamers.

  8. Like Joel, my nearest Apple Store did some remodeling and now there’s only one register at the end of the Genius Bar. The associates all have the portable card scanners. Another Store (there’s only 3 in my state) had an actual register counter….which curiously is right in the front of the store with the rest of the store behind it. That setup seems weird to me.

    I personally don’t see how you had trouble figuring out who worked there, unless it was “Everyone wear the same shade of green shirt day” in your city/county/state.

  9. @Chas: No need to apologize. :) It’s not being uncomfortable with the lack of structure, it’s being uncomfortable with the bad implementation of the method. I shouldn’t have to hunt down an employee and certainly shouldn’t have to try and figure out who an employee is just so I can by something. That’s all.

  10. Ramón

    I go to the main store in San Francisco and there are two checkout areas, one on each floor, plus I don’t know if it’s happened to anyone else lately, but with every purchase, I’ve received a followup email in addition to my electronic receipt, asking me to give them some input about my recent shopping experience. I think that that is in response to some complaints about some associates who were “too hip for the room”. I’ve also gone to their smaller San Francisco store, where they answer the phone; “Apple Stonestown – we have parking!”, and the service there is equally good. Their Emeryville store, before they opened the San Francisco stores was the pits – I filed a complaint about that one in 2003 and never returned. My experience in the Palo Alto store has been excellent.

  11. Chas. Sanderson

    I’m sorry that you’re uncomfortable with the lack of structure.

    I’m a 67 year old Mac fan boy and I thoroughly enjoy shopping at the local Apple Store and being checked out by a sales associate with a portable device. The service is always prompt and very, very helpful.

  12. Interesting. I remember when the first apple stores appeared they were cited for using the Gap model of having the cash at the back of the store, forcing you to walk by all the goodies before you could make an exit.

    I haven’t seen the wandering cash machines at my local store yet. Sounds funky :)

  13. Ha! I just went to my local apple store today and was thinking exactly the same thing.

    The wandering cashiers with their handheld credit card machines are AWKWARD. They didn’t even give me a receipt, instead emailing it to my gmail account. So I felt like a shoplifter walking out of the store without any physical proof that I bought the item in my hand. Very weird. And inefficient.

  14. To answer a few people’s questions…there is no set “register” at the store I go to. There _is_ is a register per se in that they can check you out there if you want to pay cash, but there is absolutely no place to just walk up to a counter and check out. You have to go hunt down someone or wait to be approached or you simply can’t buy anything.

  15. I wonder if maybe they’re having some staffing issues at your local store. My local store here in Connecticut has been very good about having a ton of staff on the floor at all times (much more than in year’s past). There is a checkout counter up front however they have roaming checkout people with handhelds (windows based ironically) to speed things up when the line gets too long.

  16. This is EXACTLY what I experienced last week at the Apple store at Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego. The mall is busy even on a weekday afternoon, so the Apple store was a zoo. There are no registers, only roamers and a Genius Bar. I knew exactly what I wanted, didn’t need to shop, and still spent 10 minutes trying to find a free employee who could help me. It was rather irritating.

  17. I’ve had the same experience. There is no register. There may be 4 or 5 apple employees helping various people scattered throughout the store.

    There is a moment of awkwardly holding the credit card visibly and trying to make eye contact with someone.

    There is a moment of trying to figure out which employee will be done helping another customer.

    There is a moment of picking the wrong employee who has an individual asking them multiple questions as they walk through the store. Damn…picked the wrong employee…but should I go wait next to another employee.

    Walk up to the genius bar and they are helping someone intently.

    I just want to buy this Dora the Explorer game.

  18. Michael

    There are two types of Apple store out there. The first is a full “Apple Store” that has a checkout area, a genius bar, and often an Apple experience bar. (I forget what Apple actually calls the experience bar, but this is where you can go and get advice on how to use Pages, Keynote, Photoshop and so on to achieve your goals.)

    The second type of store is the “Apple Store” express. This type of store is much smaller than a full store, usually consisting only of benches down the side walls and stocks a very limited range of software and accessories. In the express stores, there is usually (but not always) a small counter at the rear for checkouts but the checkout computers are hidden behind the counter. Also, the express stores often have check out shelves that pop out of the walls when needed.

    The express stores rely heavily on Apple’s hand-held checkout devices. These devices are also carried by many of the associates at full sized stores. The hand-held checkout device is about the size of a Palm Pilot and allow you to complete purchases that do not involve applying any discounts (edu or corporate) to the sale.

    For example, the Palo Alto Apple Store is a full sized store, whereas the Stanford Shopping Center Apple Store (also in Palo Alto) is an express store.

    (Note, these comments are based solely on my shopping experiences at various Apple stores.)

  19. Nathaniel

    Is it possible Apple is running an experiment in social phobia? I just find it amazing that it’s easy to approach someone at a counter, but if you take away the counter all of a sudden people start to panic and not know how to say “Excuse me, I want to buy this”. Is there some sort of approach anxiety taking place?

  20. Most Apple stores I’ve been to, you can always grab an employee and check out right there and then in under a minute.

    It takes less time to buy a MacBook at my Apple Store than to buy a pound of cheese from the deli at my local grocery store.

  21. My Apple store absolutely has NO register. It used to, but they shut down the store for a week earlier this year and moved the Genius Bar to where the cash registers used to be. Now all employees walk around the store with hand-held checkout stations. I, too, have many issues walking in and just picking up what I want. Does anyone else know why Apple is moving to this setup? Or are Josh and my stores the abnormals? And if so, why?

  22. last week i went to the apple store at the stanford shopping center in palo alto. walked to the ipod accessories, picked up a package of earbud covers, found an employee who checked me out on the spot. took my email address so he could email my receipt. when we were done, he said, “that was fast!”

    and it was. of course, we completed the process next to the iphone display, so i had the opportunity to play with one. for thirty seconds. enough to know i want to get one when my current cell contract runs out.

    anyway, the current setup works for me, at least when the stores aren’t packed.

  23. Nathaniel

    I’ve been to a half-dozen different Apple stores around the country and they all had a counter with someone hanging out there for the purpose of checking people out and grabbing accessories, etc for people who needed something quickly. Is it possible you’re just visiting the store when it’s busy and they don’t have enough employees? You say it was “fairly uncrowded”, but if it takes 15 minutes for an employee to get free obviously there are enough customers there to saturate the sales staff.

  24. I’ve been to all 4 of the Apple Stores in the Twin Cities and the Chicago Michigan Ave Apple Store. All have had a set checkout location. A couple computers setup with scanners and at least one person behind waiting for customers. In all these places it’s pretty easy to see to go in, pick up what I’ve needed and checkout and go very quickly if needed. The Chicago Apple store has the largest checkout counter, with about 6 or 8 computers and usually several people behind the counter ready to check you out. They even usually have small items like the iPod Minis or Shuffles behind the counter and you just ask for one if you want it. At holidays and big product launches, usually they even set up smaller checkout locations elsewhere in the store to handle the larger crowds. So I don’t think your experience is the overall setup for most of their stores.

  25. My Apple store (I lucked out, there’s one about 15 minutes away) is a bit more traditional. We have the roamers, but there’s always at least a pair of associates manning the front register.

    Yours has no register?

  26. My “local” Apple store (two hours away…hey, I live rurally) is pretty much like the one you describe, except there’s almost always an associate somewhere near the cash register counter at the front of the store. I don’t think I’ve ever had to wait more than a couple of minutes for help, even last week when I went in to buy an iPhone and the place as mobbed.