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Five More Apple Retail Flops

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Fifth Avenue

As we discussed yesterday, there have been quite a few instances where Apple’s (s aapl) retail plans have been re-evaluated or changed to meet the needs of the business or traffic in the store. Without further ado, here’s the final installment of my Top 10 Apple Retail Flops. If you missed the first half, you can read it along with the great commentary here.

One to One

This service, originally called ProCare when it was launched many years ago, has evolved and evolved and evolved more times that we can count. Originally offering simple one hour personal training sessions on whatever a customer wanted, the service transitioned into more outline oriented topics, including generic Getting Started and Moviemaking Basics type sessions.

Customers were eventually limited to one appointment per week and were given a nice book to track all of their notes from the sessions. The cost of these notebooks were expensive and were eventually replaced by a series of cards containing the One to One curriculum.

In yet another attempt to go green, or save money, Apple moved the curriculum online and now limits customers to renewing their One to One membership two times (for a total of three years of service). This is similar to AppleCare, but leaves many users upset because it must be purchased at the same time your Mac is purchased. Upsetting? Read some of the feedback from our readers.


Rhonda Icon Many were unaware of the existence of Rhonda, which was ultimately the reason for its failure. As a solution for missing customers who are unable to get the attention of a Mac Specialist, Rhonda was a system that allowed, upon activation, the desktop background of the Mac to turn a bright red, alerting the attention of any nearby employees. (Think about the Beach Boys song “Help Me Rhonda.”)

Many customers were scared off by this sudden color change and even more didn’t know the system even existed. If you were using a Mac and you clicked a button and the screen suddenly turned red, would you run away from it? Adding insult to injury, a timer also started when Rhonda was launched so a Mac Specialist knew exactly how long it had been since the system was launched. When the screensaver would activate, employees would have no idea if Rhonda was on or not, leaving them to eventually find timers that had been running for hours at a time. Rhonda quietly disappeared about half a year after it was launched.

The Welcome Desk & Cash Wrap Removal

Around 2006, newer stores experimented with the idea of a “welcome desk” or a central place when you first walk in where visitors could register or check in for Genius Bar appointments. An evolution of the cash wrap, the welcome desk was designed to house several stowaway portables to be used as a cash wrap during busy times. As the stores shifted towards more EasyPay usage, these portables were used less frequently (unless the EasyPay devices failed).

Eventually, many stores were remodeled to remove their cash wraps and welcome desks, leaving the only POS besides an EasyPay to be at the Genius Bar, which is often already crowded as it is. Customers are often quite confused and they tend to congregate towards the crowded Genius Bars anyway where a Mac Specialist will ring them up.

Mac Express

iMacDuring the 2004 holiday season, Apple introduced the idea of an iPod Express area, where visitors could quickly purchase an iPod and the most popular accessories without having to wait in long lines. For the 2005 holiday season, this concept evolved into also having a Mac Express area. The only problem is that for most, the process of buying a Mac is more than just a quick five minute process and the Mac Express area really was a dead part of the store. Some say that Apple championed this concept into Personal Shopping (as you could always find a lone Mac Specialist over in the Mac Express area to show you all about a Mac), but it was still quite a failure and a waste of space.


The acrylic displays found in the Apple Stores are quite iconic and specialized, from older displays that showcased the AirPort Express to newer acrylic displays that house iPods. One of the biggest blunders in Apple’s retail history were these iPod acrylics which made an easy target for shoplifters to quickly run off with thousands of dollars in iPods. The stores kept the acrylics stocked to show customers that plenty of iPods were in stock, but even this became problematic for Specialists to stay on top of because they never knew if a customer had removed an iPod to purchase it, or if someone had simply stolen it. Eventually Apple began using locking acrylics, which would allow only employees access. Still many stores had issues with thieves simply taking the entire acrylic unit and running away. Much to the happiness of employees and after an untold, but likely staggering, amount of product loss, Apple decided to remove the acrylics.

A big thanks for all the commentary and follow up that many of you provided for part one of this series. Once again, this list is purely my opinion and commentary on Apple’s retail initiatives and if you agree, or disagree, I would love to hear what you think.

10 Responses to “Five More Apple Retail Flops”

  1. I think the removal of the Welcome Desk/Cash Wrap was a bad move, or at least not the right variation.

    My recent visit to a store was to buy an iPhone case. I walked in, was greeted and took a few seconds to get my bearings. Walked to the back where the tower of cases were and took about 5 minutes to choose. No one was helping me, and I really didn’t need it…. until it came time to checkout. I stood in the middle of the floor, looking for a staff member that was not busy, or the Genius Bar to clear up. Finally an employee noticed me and ushered me over to the Genius Bar, where I had to excuse myself to those sitting there so I could get to the POS.

    There is no obvious “wait here for the next available employee to help you” location, so customers are expected to wander around in search of an available employee, or interrupt one that is already helping someone.

    I think this is a poor implementation and I can’t see how the stores will manage a flood of customers for any big product release in the future. The free-flowing store layout needs a little bit more order for optimal efficiency.

  2. I agree with most of your first and second post, but I must observe one thing.. no matter how bad the blunders/corrections, it still beats going to BestBuy to buy a computer/accessories. The overall experience is one shopping is fun (i.e. if you’ve the $$$$s to burn)

  3. Reinharden

    Josh, I’m not really seeing a lot of offended in the above comments…

    I mean I disagreed with one element. One other person didn’t see the point. Certainly there’s not a tizzy evident on this comment thread…

  4. I’m confused why people are so offended by this series. I mean legitimately offended. As though we were telling them that they personally are a flop.

    People, this is called an “opinion piece.” Chris, the author, thinks these things didn’t do so well in Apple’s retail space. By all means you are 100% free to disagree with every single item, but settle down folks! It’s one man’s thoughts. No need to get in a tizzy about it.

  5. Wow, I’m wondering if I’m the only non-Mac user in the bunch. With no dog in the fight, it was an interesting read.

    Not defending anyone/anything, just thinking it’s an interesting piece that looks back on, say, lessons learned. Apple can learn from mistakes, too (assuming you’re willing to acknowledge the possibility of the premise).


  6. Reinharden

    So Apple’s One to One retail program is a flop because they’ve had to take moves to limit the number of people in the program?

    Is that kind of like the quote attributed to Yogi Berra “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”?

    Last I saw, AAPL said they had over a half-million subscribers to their One to One program.

    Their problem was simply one of space and time. Not an absence of success.

    That having been said, since Apple retail stores sales per square foot is $3000 to $4000+ (depending upon whose estimate you believe), of course they tried to move One to One stuff online.

  7. MusicTechGeek

    No company does everything right, we are all human and do make mistakes. But for a company as successful as Apple, who makes darn good products and whose retail store experiences are superior to most other retailers, I can’t see the point of this article.