Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Apple retail experience

I will warn you that this post will be a semi-rant so Apple loyalists may want to turn away now.

I've gone into the local Apple store twice over the past three days and can relate that the experience was both stunning, in observing the energy and interest of the consumers in the store coupled with the Apple "genius" associates, yet very troubling in the specifics of what I encountered.

Our family owns six Apple products--two laptops and four i-Pod/i-Touch devices. We love Apple products but aren't the types who place the Apple decal on the window of our car. A healthy respect for the brand and the quality of the product is how I would portray our opinions about Apple.

So, it's with a bit of disappointment but also a lot of irritation that I report on my interactions at the Apple store recently. One of our i-Pods no longer holds a charge. My wife took the device in a month ago and had it "restored." That restoration did not fix the problem. So, when I went in Sunday to explain that the problem was still there, my expectation was that we'd get a new device or, at minimum, a replaced battery.

Guess what? I had to make an Apple Genius appointment. Now, it was always my understanding that the Genius bar in the Apple stores were for those who wanted tutelage in the art of mastering the Apple operating system. I mean, c'mon, I have to make an appointment for someone to even look at my i-Pod? Yep, that's the deal.

So, I go in today for my "Genius" appointment. A bright, likable young man--an acolyte that one typically encounters at Apple--helped me out. He checked the device, checked the customer service notes and said "we need to get you a new battery." I said, "OK, let's do it." Well, said acolyte informed me, "we don't have that item in stock--we'll have to order it." I was told that they would call me and that I could come back and bypass making an appointment in order to make it "convenient" for me.

Let me get this straight--the local Apple store does not stock a component which powers a device which is sold at high volume. And, I had to have an appointment--about five minutes in total length--to even make this discovery!

The visit pointed out to me the strength of the Apple brand--that Apple, in effect, almost gets a "pass" from consumers because the quality of the products and the shopping experience seems to overcome the negative feelings engendered by this handling of service and repair issues.

The Apple brand continues to be the model to which other brands aspire. Personally, I think the company has to be careful that, with its success does not come a lack of appreciation for handling those few consumers who actually do need repair on an Apple product.

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