Apple's new Senior Vice President, Retail and Online Stores is Angela Ahrendts. What are some of the things customers and Apple retail store employees are hoping will be high on her to-do list in her first year? I have been pondering a such a list.
First, as some have suggested, a decorative makeover of Apple's retail stores is the least of Ms. Ahrendts' concerns. The original design, perfected by Steve Jobs, is clean and attractive. For Apple to sink many millions into a project like that would not only be a waste of money but also greatly ignore the real problems related to the workload and compensation of employees — which I'll get to below. So scratch that off the hotlist except for wear-and-tear upgrades.
So let's move on to the important things, in priority order.
1. The number one priority for Ms. Ahrendts is to improve the relationship between Apple management and employees, something that's become increasingly strained. It's all in light of the notion by management, in general these days, that if certain severe steps are taken, the company can extract X percent more productivity from employees and Y percent more revenue.
The problem is that while a company's quest for growth and revenue are inexhaustible, the endurance of human employees is not. Put another way, Apple doesn't need to make Y percent more money from retail stores. Rather, it needs to make Z percent customers happier, more productive with Apple devices and more loyal to the salespeople they encounter in the store.
Where Z >> Y.
Along these lines, a source in a position to know wrote me recently:
... the most important thing she can do is pull back from the 'bottom line' mentality that’s taken over the company in recent years. Apple Stores used to be magical and focused almost exclusively on the customer experience: Break your iPhone? No problem, everyone gets at least one free replacement. Buy your first Mac? Awesome! The salesperson working with you would announce it to the store ('Jenny here just bought her first Mac!') and everyone would stop and freaking applaud.
But now ... [the experience] is too sterile and transactional. The stores are so busy, and the staff so overwhelmed, that it’s just 'get in, pay for it, get out.'
Bottom line: improving the customer's experience means improving the salesperson's experience.
2. Employee Compensation. I remember when Apple was the David fighting the Microsoft Goliath. The opportunity to fight the good fight and change the world for the better made it an honor to work for Apple, especially for those of us who bought into the young company in the 1970s.
Today's young people can hardly remember when Apple wasn't a tech giant, and so many aren't stakeholders in the holy war of old. Instead, in many cases I've read about, young employees see an incredibly wealthy tech giant working them to exhaustion. The terrorism of severe sales metrics, overwork, odd hours weigh on even the most loyal, enthusiastic employee. Again, my source wrote:
... she’s got to increase compensation, especially [certain] store specialists. These folks are asked to do a lot, such as one-to-one personal training, repairs, data transfers, answer questions about third party accessories and software, handle abusive customers, and so on. [These people] were getting paid less than the kids across the street folding jeans at The Gap.
If it's an honor to work at Apple, it should be Apple's honor to compensate the employees well. After all, it stands to reason that if modern tech companies want growth in their sales, they should pave with way with growth in their payrolls.
3. Pursue contracts for larger available stores in some locations. It's been noted that, in some locations, it's shoulder to shoulder most of the time. Because of that, my wife refuses to accompany me into the store at Park Meadows Mall, Lone Tree, Colorado, on Saturdays. Apple probably doesn't measure the people who, when they see the crowd, walk away.
Not related to that, but potentially part of the issue is health. While Apple would like to keep the stores looking lively, busy and packed, there are limits to human tolerance to sneezing customers, constant collisions and greasy iPads that have been handled all day long. [They're cleaned each night with a Clorox solution, I am told.] Clean, airy, spacious and the smell of fresh hardwood can be nice.
As evidence of that, when Apple showcases a new store concept in architectural art, the store is always devoid of people, spacious and alluring. That reminds me of an old joke: it's called the demo version. Someday, perhaps, an Apple iWatch will send you an alert. "The air quality is too low and the crowding in this location is too high. Get out."
Wrapping it all up. There's a meme about working for Apple. Apple hires you for your expertise, but doesn't want you to change the company. Here's hoping Ms. Ahrendts can buck the system, do the right things and keep her job.
Next: The tech news debris for the week of April 28