The physical Apple Store is still annoying as ever

I popped into the Covent Garden Apple Store this evening to buy a new MacBook Pro laptop.

I decided to buy there-and-then because I needed the utility. I wanted the machine immediately rather than waiting.

It turns out that this is perhaps the wrong approach for me because I really don’t enjoy the standard experience.

If the Apple Store you’re visiting is empty, you’ll typically have a brilliant time. Store staff will descend upon you, answer every question, show you something ‘unique and fun’ about the Mac (or whatever product you’re interested in) and then process your purchase as necessary. Job done.

If your Apple Store is filled with non-customers with nothing better to do than to arse about on Facebook, then there’s trouble ahead for you and I.

You and I want to get things done, right?

I want to walk in, browse if appropriate and then buy. Sadly the rather wicked Apple Store mobile app doesn’t work with computers. It only works with small ticket items that you can pick up and scan yourself.

If your purchase depends on a human, then get ready to question your sanity.

Back in February I had a rubbish experience in the Regent Street Apple Store where I had to resort to doing star jumps in the centre of the store to get the attention of store staff busy trying to delight people who weren’t buying:

If memory serves, I did a few more star jumps. Not big ones you understand. But certainly discernible. My 2x iPhones would have fallen out of my pocket if I’d jumped forcefully. The £2,500 Apple MacBook Pro could have been dislodged from my bag. The other iPhone inside the bag could have fallen out. But they’re all backed up on my 50GB Apple iCloud subscription. I write this paragraph to highlight that I’m not an Apple lightweight spender.

I didn’t have to resort to star jumps but I did have to stand about like a flipping lemon for a good 10 minutes before I could catch the eye of a ‘red shirt’. (They’re all in Red for Christmas it seems).

I had to loiter buy the temporary iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone bench at the back of the store because that way, you can’t easily be ignored. It’s a security risk.

I had to avoid questioning what the hell I was doing, waiting. Waiting. Waiting. It’s a huge premium you pay for Apple. I wasn’t that far away from thinking, ‘stuff this’, and deciding to completely swap away from the company.

Their technology is a real delight.

The stores are a ball ache.

Every where I looked there was a red shirt deep in discussion with an also-ran — somebody who won’t be purchasing for a long time. Someone who isn’t using the store for it’s primary (or perhaps, original) function: Buying.

Most folk were browsing. I missed grabbing one red shirt because someone else stepped in front of me and asked a question about Mac Minis. Just a question, mind. He had no intention of buying — he said so up front. I had to mentally roll my eyes.

There’s nothing at all wrong with this basic service model. It’s one of the reasons I am happy to recommend the Apple Store to all and sundry. They aim to take care of you.

Apart, that is, from the serious buyer.

I suppose I could have made a business appointment. I suppose.

I didn’t want to make the time to do that.

I could have booked in advance.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I can see that I’m in the wrong. It’s my expectations that are entirely wrong.

Ever since they took the sales desks — the centre, the heart — out of the store, I’ve found the experience dire.

But then aren’t Apple Stores meant to be the most (or at least, one of the most) profitable per square foot? They must be doing something right.

I’m in the very small minority.

I’d love to see them bring back a very, very small sales desk.

Just a tiny one. A central point where I and the others like me can go to when we’re ready to buy. This evening I just stood about trying to make eye contact with red shirts. This is a significantly disheartening experience — every brush with the possibility of being served by a red shirt is an opportunity for me to question why I didn’t just walk up the road to PC World and get served immediately.

Still, I’m enjoying the Retina screen once again. It’s been a few months since I’ve used a MacBook Pro.

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  • http://wirelessworker.net Ben Smith

    I share your frustration… I buy from a bricks-and-mortar apple store when I want to see and handle the product first or if I want to do a side-by-side comparison.

    However, Apple’s big city stores are so-often glorified internet cafes I actually had to flag a member of staff down and get them to displace a Facebook-browsing tourist so I could see if the £2k laptop he’d been at for 20mins was what I wanted to buy.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    I had that precise problem this evening! I had to queue to wait for this student/tourist to stop checking his Facebook so I could get a look at the MacBook Pro he was using :|

  • nisched

    I have to agree that the experience in the UK flagship apple stores can be frustrating. However, I recently bought a 13 inch macbook air inside of 5 minutes at an Apple store in Hong Kong, very easy.

    However, here very few people are buying laptops, everyone just wants an ipad or an iphone. Once you’re at the computer table they almost already know you’re serious.

  • Chris P.

    So what you are basically saying is the 10 minutes you had to wait for assistance you would rather spend that 10 minutes waiting in line at a tiny desk?

    Also because you are a “big” spender you should get priority service over someone that may not purchase something at that moment.

    Here is a couple of tips for you. You can’t use the Apple store app to purchase computers in the store and self check out. These of course are not just sitting on a shelf. (Would be dumb for security and attaching AppleCare to units).

    But what you can do is actually make the purchase in the app ahead of time and mark it for in store pick up. Then when you walk in they know you are there! Like Magic!

    Second you should create a relationship with the business team. They will wait on you hand and foot. Especially if you buy their Joint Venture membership. Yes it’s expensive but hey your a “big” spender at the Apple store. But even if you don’t, you can call them, email them, fax them what you want and bypass the Facebook surfing peons who can’t afford an iPod shuffle let alone 2x iPhones.

    Just put yourself in their shoes and see how there is no perfect solution for a retail store that people actually want to go to and do en mass.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    I would actually much prefer standing at a little table for 10 minutes, yes. Because I avoid the ambiguity. That’s the significant arse for me — when you’re having to stand there to catch someone’s eye.
    I wasn’t aware you could buy ahead of time. That would have been useful — I’ll try that next time. However, often, I haven’t made my precise decision until I walk into the Store and check out the different machines (e.g. I was thinking about the 13” Air or the 13” MacBook Pro and tried the weight out once more before choosing).

  • Paul Cockerton

    Hi.

    Had just the same experience in Regent Street. Mind you, it was partly because for the last year or so I’d been buying my macbook’s at John Lewis because of the longer 2 year warranty.

    Perhaps the uncomfortable aspect of this is because, deep down, we like to queue. We like the order, knowing we’re in a definite place, that’s been created by the time we entered the shop, rather than our ability to grab the eye of an assistant. Perhaps Apple should read this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Watching-English-Hidden-Rules-Behaviour/dp/0340818867 or follow https://twitter.com/SoVeryBritish.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    It’s a perfect configuration to browse and to soak up the energy of consumption :)

  • http://wirelessworker.net Ben Smith

    For me it’s not about wanting priority over other customers – I would (and have) happily waited for others to complete their transactions or pre-sales enquiries. The annoyance is that Apple make no effort in their large London stores to discourage ‘non-customer’ use… I’m not talking about someone who wants to spend ages handling a new iPad or has loads of questions… I’m talking about people Skyping friends or uploading holiday pictures (both of which I’ve witnessed).

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Last night there was a chap charging his iPhone and doing some work on the MacBook Pro next to me!

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