My Recent Annoying Apple Retail Store Experience

Apple Retail Store (Palo Alto, CA)

Apple Retail Store (Palo Alto, CA)

I’ve never been more annoyed inside an Apple Retail Store than my time there a few days ago.

The microphone in my Apple EarPods recently stopped working. Since the EarPods are covered under my active iPhone AppleCare warranty, I decided to get them replaced at the Apple Store.

I walked into my local store, was promptly greeted by one of two employees who stood by the entrance, stated that I wanted to get my headphones replaced, was ushered immediately into the service line, and was told it was possibly going to be a long wait. I thought that the long wait time comment was odd since there was only a handful of people in line (I should note that the store seemed full, although not packed–using my observations in the store during the Christmas shopping season for comparison sake), but dismissed it as a conservative estimate designed to defuse any possible negativity and stress associated with being in long lines.

I waited for about five minutes before the employee in charge of the service line beckoned me. The conversation as I remember it:

Employee: “How can I help you?”

Me: Raising my hand holding the broken EarPods for all to see. “I need my headphones replaced.”

Employee: “Do you have an appointment?”

Me: “No. (Pause) Do I need one?”

Employee: “The store policy changed a few weeks ago. Walk-ins are allowed, but they are helped only after all customers with appointments have been helped first; which is why we encourage people to make appointments. Would you like to schedule an appointment? It’s going to be about a three hour wait.”

Me: Confused and annoyed look on my face. “No.” Muttered to myself. “No.” Turned and walked away while shaking my head.

Here’s what I should have said, but didn’t because I recognized that the employee understood my annoyance and frustration at being told that I couldn’t be immediately helped.

Me: “This is ridiculous. My issue isn’t getting my iPhone screen fixed like the gentleman behind me, which probably WOULD require an appointment. I just need my headphones replaced, which SHOULD take about thirty seconds since they’re covered under the AppleCare warranty from my less-than-three-month-old iPhone. It’s probably the ONE THING that any employee should be able to assist me with. I’ve been in a similar situation before, and I was in-and-out of the store in less than two minutes with replacement headphones and a smile on my face. Repeat. Ridiculous.”

But, I didn’t say that. I thought the employee was aware of the stupidity of the store policy change, and it wouldn’t have been fair to vent at someone who probably did not make that decision in the first place. Plus, there were children around, and I didn’t want to cause a big scene. I stewed as I briskly walked out of the store.

The policy change that completely prioritizes appointments is stupid. Why? Because some issues simply don’t require a trip to the Genius Bar, let alone a formal appointment. Every employee, not just a Genius, should be able to remedy issues like replacing broken headphones quickly and easily sans appointment (i.e., it’s easier to replace these broken items rather than fix them). Under warranty? Check. Let me see if I have any replacements in stock. Wait one second. Check. Here you go. Have a good day! Next in line.

Wasn’t this part of the rationale for eliminating store lines because every employee could assist you? Isn’t that the point of all that training? (As an aside, I’m glad lines returned because customers naturally formed lines regardless, especially near the employee they needed to talk to. People don’t want to risk losing their spot, and generally aren’t interested in deviating from their first priority which was getting help.) By my estimate, there were five of six employees doing nothing in the store but standing some place or ushering customers into some kind of line; they were greeters, expediters, or theft-preventers—not helpers. Bottom line is I think employees have been pushed into either two distinct categories: geniuses or salespeople (no in-between).

Instead of being able to make spontaneous visits to my local Apple Store, I now have to try to remember to make an appointment for my issues, even the small ones. And waiting three hours to get headphones replaced under warranty is excessive. I don’t expect instant assistance and anticipate some amount of waiting any time I walk into the store for service, but getting turned away for my issue was unreasonable. Repeat. This. Is. Stupid.

For anyone who thinks my criticism seems over-the-top and misguided, please ask yourself if customers should need to make an appointment to get their headphones replaced. Not their laptop keyboards or iPhone screens. Their headphones. Reasonable common sense?

Challenge: I’m going to a different Apple store in another city to see if I can get my headphones replaced. I’m not going to make an appointment beforehand because I shouldn’t need one.

UPDATE: I went to a different Apple Retail Store in another city, and I was in-and-out in about two minutes. Although to be fair, I went in around 10 AM, and there were more employees than customers inside at the time.

UPDATE 2: Ok. It seems this new change will be instituted nationally.

During the week of March 9th, Apple’s United States stores will launch a new initiative called “The new Concierge” that replaces traditional walk-in Genius Bar appointments. Currently, a customer seeking Genius Bar assistance can walk into an Apple Retail Store, explain the issue to a check-in assistant, and get a specific time to return for an appointment.

I’ll reiterate. This is stupid. If no one else is in the store, would the employee still set an appointment for me a minute into the future or simply help me right then and there regardless. I feel like there is a small metrics push for this new initiative (i.e., quota).

[photo via Apple]

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