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What Makes an Apple Store So Great

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If you haven’t had an opportunity to visit an Apple Store (s aapl), I strongly recommend doing so. My last visit was a week ago when I picked up my new iPhone 4 and, though I’ve visited the stores plenty of times before, waiting in line reminded me of what makes Apple’s retail plans such a success.

True, I’ve written before about some of the missteps that Apple has taken, but even with its faults, the company never stops and keeps striving to make a difference in the minds of its customers. So what makes an Apple Store so great? It’s all about the experience.

Certainly, one can argue that the reason why people will wait in lines that are hours long for a new telephone is because the telephone must be pretty frackin’ cool. Some of you may have done this before, waiting outside of a Best Buy (s bby) or Walmart (s wmt) for a chance to get a Nintendo Wii or Playstation 3 when they first launched. But if you did, I bet your experience was nothing like it was at the Apple Store.

First, the stores have Wi-Fi. That one may seem a little cheesy, but when you’re camped outside at 3AM, it’s nice that a company that, despite all its talk of being energy-efficient and going green, still decided to leave its wireless routers active at night so you can watch Hulu while waiting in line.

Second, the stores take care of those who are waiting in line. During both the iPad and iPhone 4 launches, the two stores I visited had partnered with a local Starbucks and California Pizza Kitchen to provide food and drinks to those who had been waiting — at no expense to customers. How many places do you know of that do that?

Third, the experience with the employees is, despite the occasional misstep, phenomenal. Employees are not on commission so there’s no pressure for them to sell you everything and the kitchen sink. They’re in the business of building a relationship. They’ll shake your hand, call you by your name and really take personal pride in being able to help you with the right solution every time. Not only that, but it’s not just about selling you on the products. Apple is one of few companies who really wants you to return to the store and learn more about how to use their products, even if you’re not buying anything else. It’s all about the experience -– with the products, with the people and with the stores.

If you’ve ever had a chance to visit the Ritz Carlton, this type of service will be familiar to you as it originally started with its gold standards. The Ritz Carlton credo is the guiding philosophy of Apple’s own credo.

“The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

Even its motto, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen” speaks volumes to how Apple treats its own customers. Have you ever walked into an Apple Store and not been treated like royalty? (As an aside, I strongly suggest you do not walk into a store and demand to be treated like royalty.)

Apple calls its service “surprise and delight.” It aims to surprise its customers by seeking opportunities to deliver on its customers wishes and needs and then delight them by going above and beyond, if you give them the opportunity.

Again, look at the recent iPhone 4 launch. After waiting in line, I was then taken into the store where I had a chance to play with the iPhone while I waited for the next Specialist who could help me with my purchase. When I’d finished purchasing my phone, it was switched over on AT&T’s (s att) network (rendering my old phone inoperable) and another Mac Specialist was there ready to help me plug it into a Mac and finish the activation process.

If you give them a chance, and don’t exploit it, every team member at Apple will not stop until they’ve given you the best experience they can. Unfortunately, however, as the busy consumers we are, we like this attention and tend to expect or even demand it sometimes. There are times when a Genius Bar appointment may not be available until the next day or that hot new iPhone just isn’t in stock. Getting frustrated at this point is understandable, but take a few moments to understand how the team at Apple really wants to help you and be sure to treat them with that same level of respect. Even though the stores are busy, politely asking, “How can we find a way to help me get my Mac working as soon as possible?” is just enough to, if they haven’t offered already, allow them to look at Genius Bar appointments at neighboring stores and go ahead and schedule the appointment for you. Or, if the store traffic permits, check in your Mac for repair and diagnosis at a later time so you don’t have to wait for the appointment.

The moral of my story is this. The Apple Store is a great experience and that’s a big reason why people love to buy Apple products. For many, it does start with their first iPod or iPhone and later they return for their first Mac. So don’t forget the little things that make the experience so great (the attention, the people) and appreciate them because Apple’s formula for success is something you just won’t find at Best Buy or AT&T or really any other retail store for that matter.

There you have it. Yet another reason why many of us Apple users are called “fan boys.” Have you had your own surprise and delight experience at Apple? Tell us about it in the comments.

31 Responses to “What Makes an Apple Store So Great”

  1. jeremy

    Having worked for Best Buy for about a year, I would say that you are wrong in the fact that Best Buy is just another retail store. Best Buy have a similar formula for getting to know their customers and they are also noncommission based sales. They get to know them on a personal level and get them into the products they need, not extra stuff they will never use.

  2. Mark Fernandes

    I am not a fanboy – but I am a very satisfied Apple-products user and I find it a pleasure to visit Apple stores. I can’t think of a single experience that hasn’t been a pleasure.

    I’ve been gently talked out of software purchases I didn’t really need. I’ve had products replaced free of charge that were way out of warranty. I’ve been given patient, thorough service at all times, in fact.

    I can’t think of any other retail outlet, of any kind, that approaches it. Sure it gets busy – especially after big launches like the iPhone and the iPad but I guess if I was spending those kind of amounts then I’d want to have hands-on too, if I could. It makes for a busy shop, sure, but I don’t remember it delaying anything I was trying to do.

  3. Not all Apple fans are fan “boys”!

    But I totally agree about the Apple Store; I’ve had incredible service. Just one of many stories I tell people: I went in with a wireless keyboard that had stopped working; the keyboard was out of warranty, being a bit over a year old. But the person I spoke to confirmed it didn’t work – and then went off and got me a replacement, for free.

  4. I was just hired at the Apple Store, York Dale location in Toronto. Reading this article made me even more proud to be joining the Apple retail team.

    I began applying at Apple 4 years ago because of the incredible service they deliver, and I want to be a part of that. Thanks for the article, you made my latest career move feel pretty damned good.

  5. My best experience with the Apple Store was when I brought in my iBook, a week before its AppleCare expired, and asked them to check it out and make sure nothing was wrong with it. They found some obscure part that I didn’t even know was broken—something to do with the hinges, I think—and when they discovered that the part was backordered six weeks or more, just gave me a brand new MacBook instead.

    As an aside, that MacBook wasn’t exactly the best computer—it required repairs, quite a few times—so I actually wound up getting a free MacBook Pro to replace that one, too!

    Suffice to say: I’m now on year seven of my iBook purchase and have a brand new MacBook Pro to show for it. *That’s* customer service!

  6. Twist

    I agree that Apple offers one of the best retail experiences out there to go along with the awesome end user experiences of their products but they really need to do something about how crowded their store here gets. The worst part is that people tend to congregate right around the products by the doors (iPad’s on one side and MacBooks on the other last time I was in the Penn Square Mall Apple Store in Oklahoma City) which makes it difficult to get into and out of the store. I think the local demand for Apple products has out grown what this single store can meet. It would be really nice if they would open a second store in Sooner Fashion Mall in Norman since that would give them a south side and north side stores for the Oklahoma City area. Quail Springs Mall is another decent location for one but that would give them one north side store and one far north side store.

    I have had a couple of negative experiences with the employees there though.

    The first one was mainly just the fact that the employee who was trying to help me didn’t know much about Apple’s products. I had come in to pick up an Airport Extreme Card for my stepdad’s eMac about a year after the eMac was discontinued and the employee who was trying to help me though I was talking about something for an eMachine. As someone who knows a lot about Apple’s products both current and past this was pretty annoying because this guy was doing the job that I got rejected for. I know I am an Uber-nerd but nothing bugs me more than knowing more about the products than the people trying to sell them but this happens all the time even with current products.

    Oh wait there is one thing that bugs me more: used car sales man like attitudes. The guy who “helped me” (I put it in quotes because I walked in and told him exactly what model I wanted and he asked me if I had any questions and all I asked was if he would go grab it from the back for me) with my MacBook purchase was horrible. He was trying to push every upgrade and add-on on me that he could think of when I clearly stated I was on a tight budget and was just getting the entry level white MacBook instead of the nicer (but lacking in Firewire at the time which is very important to me) Unibody MacBook. He even sent one of the other employees back to get my MacBook while he continued to push me to get AppleCare or Mobile Me or a Time Capsule or an Airport Extreme Base Station. This guys doesn’t work there anymore to my knowledge thankfully.

  7. Apple’s retail customer service really is second to none. Nicole (my girlfriend pictured in my avatar) and I camped out at 3AM on launch day to get our iPhone 4s. During that time, Apple employees made rounds with Smart Water, Tim Horton’s donuts and coffee, bananas, and other snacks- all at no charge whatsoever. It might not seem like a big deal, but when you’ve been in line in the hot sun for a few hours it makes a real difference. When we DID finally make it to the front of the line, Marie, our personal shopper shook both of our hands, introduced herself and absolutely didn’t leave our side until we had everything we need. It’s a shopping experience like no other!

  8. I went to the apple store on regent street in London to check out the new magic mouse when it came out, and to see if I wanted to buy one. I was quite happy all by myself until an apple employee came and asked me to move so he could show another customer the magic mouse. There weren’t any other magic mouses available try after that! That meant i didn’t buy it. I understand that the other customer wanted to try it too, but I was there first! Why was he more important than me?
    Other than that, I’ve had nothing but awesome experiences with apple stores, especially at my local one in sheffield, UK. They’re all very polite!

    • Steve W

      I was at the Apple Store in Orlando FL on July 5th, and it was crowded. We had been looking at the MacBook Pro for a few minutes when an employee ASKED us to move, too; and he was POLITE.

      He came by about 10 minutes later and apologized, and then spent 25 minutes explaining the multi-touch track-pad, one-on-one training, and other features to my friend, who never owned a Mac before. He also explained that that was a normal Monday crowd, and not to come back on Saturday or Sunday if we don’t like crowds.

      I don’t believe that the other customer was more important than you. I think it probably had to do with the fact that the other customer asked for his help, and you didn’t.

  9. “For many, it does start with their first iPod or iPhone and later they return for their first Mac.”

    I am one of those. Since the first iPhone, I have been a total convert. For me their focus on the consumer, design and the Apple Store experience are huge reasons for that.
    With the first iPhone I did have trouble with couple of pieces but they made the whole process of replacement painless that I sometimes forget that I had issues with the first iPhone.
    I agree with you and I love the Apple Store experience.

  10. If you would like to know, what is pain in the ass about – come and visit Germany! I can remember a time without Apple retail Stores (we got only 3 in entire Germany) … So I was pushed to visit “MStore – Apple Premium retail” –> LOL! Theres nothing premium! As a customer you are not more than a piece of shit! If you like to be dominated just joi another Apple retail called Gravis … Thats real pain! I never have heard more often the words “ups … i dont know” from any employee in the world as at Gravis! No support, no customer relationship just only pain in the ass – Welcome to Germany!

  11. Cindy

    I personally don’t like going to the apple store near where I live. I’ve gotten good service at every other Apple store I’ve ever been to, but the one in Oklahoma City has not made me a fan. They don’t answer the phones half of the time, it’s like pulling teeth to get information when they do answer and going in is like engaging in a herculean trial to get the attention of an associate. I find it very frustrating and generally do my shopping on-line if possible because of that.
    But like I said, I’ve had great service at every *other* Apple store I’ve been to.

    • Twist

      Like I said in my bigger comment below I think the biggest issue the OKC Apple Store has is the fact the the demand for their products is larger than what one store can handle now. That and they don’t hire enough Mac geeks like us ;)

  12. I had to take my MacBook Pro in once for a new part and they had to send it away to the service center in order to have it installed. The Genius at the Apple Store gave me an estimated return date, but it ended up taking a bit longer than expected. I was leaving on a trip and really needed my computer so I called the service line and spoke to a representative, informing them of the situation. She was able to call and get my service expedited and had it overnighted to me so that I could receive my computer first thing in the morning before leaving on my trip.

    Kudos to both the helpful Geniuses at my local Apple Store and those on the other end of the phone. Apple has taken good care of me several times.

  13. Roy Benjamin

    So true, was looking for an iPad in Boston while visiting the US last week, I am from the Netherlands. None available, so the shop assistant suggested I start reserving a few in the places I was still going to visit! We did that together. AND he told me to check stores like BestBuy right after they open!

    That last one worked in the Cambridge Galleria one.

    Later that week, 5th avenue store, I was looking for the Apple iPad sleeve. I was spotted by one of them, they came over. Asked what I wanted, got them and I could pay on the spot with a credit card. And the line was huge, not for me though.

  14. James

    I for one hate the Apple Store. It’s always too crowded, mostly with people who are in there to simply play with all the toys. The staff act so arrogant, and then are shocked when I’m telling them about features that they didn’t even know about. The checkout is always impossible to find, which makes it difficult for the quick in-and-out purchase. Genius bar appointments are never on time, and they have a diagnostic tool in physical form that isn’t Google.

    That is all.

    • Sounds like you are the lone detractor… which means one of two things… either you are going in there with beliefs and attitudes that are self-fulfilling (you go in looking for ways the store sucks)… or, you are going to one Apple Store and are just getting unlucky over and over again, perhaps not even talking to the employees. My local Genius Bar is NEVER more than 1 or 2 minutes behind schedule. And the checkout isn’t impossible to find if you actually talk to the employees, because as it turns out, they all CARRY THE CHECKOUT! it’s a mobile register that every employee on the sales floor carries! it’s brilliant! no lines!!! So, it seems to me, you let the crowdedness of the store keep you from actually interacting with the brilliant staff… because the fact that you didn’t know they carry their registers (which they have for years now) tells me you aren’t even talking to them… and it’s easy to think that people you haven’t interacted with are “arrogant”… After getting to know the staff and managers at my local Apple Store, I know that anyone who was arrogant there would have a serious talking to from their managers about whether they’d rather work at Best Buy. Apple doesn’t want arrogant employees… that wouldn’t make sense. I bet they have a LOT of arrogant customers though.

      • ywamer

        James.. I hear your pain. I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Apple store – especially the free-standing ones. They seem to be less crowded than mall variants, and staff have more time. I hate crowds. Maybe that’s why, despite my love for the beautiful stores, whenever I buy an Apple product I do it either online or at the AT&T store (which we all know is not crowded, since everyone hates them so much). In summary, I’ve always loved the place.

        Until I tried to head into a shop in a local mall to buy Snow Leopard.

        Now, I know that SL is not a high end product, but what the flip? I would like to give them $29 of my own cash and buy something. It went like this:

        I wandered around the store looking for the checkout counter, which, as our fanboy-brother JJ observes, has gone missing. Lame. How the flip can average folk buy something when I (myself a frequent visitor) don’t know *where* to pay?

        Anyhow, I then began looking for an “associate”, “partner” or whatever they call themselves. Finally catching somebody’s eye, I told them I wanted to grab a copy of SL. They pointed me to a guy at the back counter. This is where the friggin’ cash registers should have been. Instead, there was one guy running around helping a crowd of people. He would disappear into the back, re-emerge with a product, and then stand at the counter and call people one-by-one from the awaiting group to pay via that little nifty mobile register thing.

        The worst part was the crowd. Me walking up, and asking for something else, did not impress the group – most of whom were giving me evil death stares at that point. Mind you, it was NOT Christmas Eve or a new product launch. It was the middle of the workweek in September, and all I wanted was to swipe my Visa card through the little ditty and go.

        I think it took 30 minutes. By which time my wife swore off Apple, went to the car to wait, and probably took an oath to only shop at Best Buy (forgive her Father, she knew not what she was doing).

        All in all, I thought this was pretty lame. Shame, Apple, shame. You hurt my feelings. Sure, it was only once in the 100+ times I’ve visited Apple Stores in 10 states, 5 countries, and 3 continents. But it hurt. And I haven’t forgiven you yet.

        But I would if I got a discount in the iPhone 4.

      • Honestly, I’m going to say I don’t believe you YWAMER… In every Apple Store I’ve ever been in (and I’ve been in a lot), everyone on the sales floor has a mobile register… not one person… EVERYONE! In fact at my local store, even the Genius Bar techs have them. Like 15 people on the sales floor at any given time… all carrying the register on their hip. “Average folk” will talk to any person in the store and they say “I can ring you up right here”. So, your statement that only one guy would be running around with a huge group of potential buyers while another employee was directing you to them… that just doesn’t ring true… doesn’t make sense unless you got a newbie or something.

        To put it in a way that “average folk” can understand… there are a TON more places to pay than any other store that size… unlike my local Best Buy where there are 4 registers, only 1 of which is ever manned at a given time, and waiting in lines takes longer than finding my products did… in an Apple Store I have never waited longer than 30 seconds to be rung up.

        I think “average folk” can handle asking where to pay… and they’ll be pleasantly surprised that they don’t have to go anywhere. And at the rate Apple Stores have grown, I think it can easily be said that most “average people” have been able to figure out how to give Apple employees their money. Now, it’s the dumbasses and belligerent morons who’ll have a problem here… So, news for YWAMER… you may not be as “average” as you claim.

        One thing you got right… I am a HUGE Apple Store Fanboy… those guys have earned it!

    • You really live in a bubble if sitting in a que for damn hours waiting for a friggin phone in an “experience”

      Try cage diving with great white sharks, or watching blue whales breach, or maybe just for now try looking up at the blue sky and realise there’s a whole world out there

      that is all

  15. Adam Jackson

    Great article! We take for granted Apple Stores but it’s those rare times when I have to go in a Best Buy or Walmart that I’m reminded how great their stores are.

    I like to think of it as an art gallery where every piece of art is on display but the only difference is we get to use the art and play with it and experience it and then buy it.

    • That’s a really nice way of putting it – like art. I think that any apple product is much more beautiful than any piece of art than I have ever seen…

    • Are peoples lives so tunnel visioned that they have to sit in a line to wait for a phone? It’s stupid. Or is there not much happening in their lives that they have time to sit in a que?

  16. Marcus O

    I’m from Sweden and unfortunately I cannot say that I have had the “surprice and delight” experience. Here they are almost cocky, and somewhat arrogant. So I rarely goes in to a Apple store. This has probably led to that whenever I plan on buying anything I do it either in the Internet store or via a another store.

    • If you’re in Sweden, then you aren’t visiting Apple Stores… You’re visiting Apple Authorised Resellers. BIG difference. (Unless the fact that you are from Sweden had nothing to do with the rest of your comment… in which case, awesome… enjoy your free healthcare)… Apple Stores have consistently phenomenal service… Apple Authorised Resellers are hit and miss.

  17. You are absolutely correct about the service at an Apple store, perhaps that’s why they are always crowded? Even those located at malls experience full stores when the rest of the mall is empty! I have never left an Apple store dissatisfied with their service, which is probably why I own so many of their products!

    Once you go MAC you never go BACK!

    • Jason Harris

      The Apple store near me is always incredibly busy and I have a hard time getting help. Partially this is because it’s busy, part of it is the same effect that I see at Best Buy and the like where they seem much more inclined to help the middle aged couple than the young techy guy.

      I do like the nice wooden floors/tables though