It's About the Service: The Apple Store

Last week I went to the Apple store to get a new set of iPod earbuds. I went to the second floor, saw a huge selection, but not the basic ones I was hoping for. I went to the help desk, just 10 ft away - there is a service desk within 20 ft of every product and a bunch of roaming employees - and was immediately talking to someone who was knowledgeable. He told me that didn't carry the basic earbuds, only ones with the remote control or ones with other features.

"This is so you can sell the high margin accessories, screwing the buyer," I joked as I looked at th $50 price tag.

The salesperson laughed and said "Pretty much." A refreshing show of honesty.

He led me to the earphones he would buy for quality, and when I reached for the white ones, added that "the white ones have thinner wires and don't last as long." Wow. That's product knowledge! The color affects durability.

Then the piece de resitance. As I walked towards the stairs to pay, I was checked out by a woman with a mobile device. I scanned my item, swiped my card, and was out within 20 seconds. 20 seconds! No lines! Integrated check out in my shopping experience before I even walked down the stairs or out the store. It was so simple, yet so different. My receipt was emailed to me, so I didn't need to keep a paper copy and I would always be able to search for it, powered by Google (much better than my paper filing system).

So who cares? I do. The Apple store in NYC changed my perception. It makes me wonder why I don't have a Mac. I am a complete PC bigot, yet the experience of buying earphones, an unrelated item, makes me feel that Apple understands the customer and understands service. Perhaps I should more seriously consider a Mac?

In an impersonal world where consumers increasingly buy online, the bricks and mortar store is about selecting the product rather than buying it and providing a level of service that can only be done in person. Over the long term, many stores will simply become service stations. Which brings the only real question for your physical store: "How's your service?"