Apple Tunes Retail Experience with “Runner”

| Analysis

Apple is always tinkering with the retail store design and layout to improve the customer experience. It turns out that the company has also developed new ways of interacting with the customer. A sales procedure called “Runner” is one of them.

We know that Apple has moved from a single point of sale experience at a cash register to the mobile system. That’s when a salesperson scans your credit card with a modified iPhone and then sends you on your way. That avoids lines and makes the buying experience less annoying.


Apple Store, Lincoln Road, Miami BeachApple Retail Store, Lincoln Road, Miami Beach (Credit Apple.com)

As it turns out, Apple has also been experimenting with and developing a system that has been called “Runner” that also changes the buying experience. Basically, the salesperson goes to a Mac, requests the item, and it’s brought out by another employee. A reliable source has filled TMO in on how it works.

“Runner requests are only required (and yes, they are required) on particularly busy days. Fridays and weekends are the prime Runner times. However if things get particularly crazy, the Runner system will be activated and the staff will be instructed to use it at any time at the discretion of management. The employee points to a locally hosted URL, logs in, and requests an item. That item then appears on a wall-mounted monitor in the back of the store with the name of the employee, the product, the area where the employee is located, and any additional pieces of software or installation requests.” Then the inventory specialist comes out of the storeroom, finds the salesperson and hands the item over.

I ran across this system myself at the Park Meadows and Aspen Grove stores near Denver for the first time over the last few weeks, buying some iPods on the weekend. I wondered if this was a new procedure in use everywhere. As it turns out, the system has been in place in at least some stores since 2007, but as our source said, only activated during extremely busy periods.

There are several good reasons for using such a system.

It allows the salesperson to remain in contact with the customer instead of leaving the customer stranded. During that retrieval time, the salesperson can bring up the subject of AppleCare, accessories, MobileMe and so on.

Next, it avoids a situation where, during very busy days, a salesperson, heading back to the storeroom could be waylaid by another customer. That leaves the original customer feeling even more alone. Also, “Apple tries to strictly dictate areas where staff should stand during busy days to ensure that customers looking for less popular items are never left high and dry,” our source explained.

Finally, this technique aids in loss prevention. Only an inventory control person or a manager can access the storeroom where high value items are kept under lock and key. That makes sure that items don’t grow legs on busy days.

TMO has polled its followers via Twitter to see if this is happening everywhere, and it seems, so far, that few customers have encountered Runner. It still may not be deployed everywhere, and our followers, polled so far, may not have been in an Apple retail store during exceptionally busy weekends.

It’s great to see that Apple is continuing to tune the customer experience so that customers can not only enjoy browsing in the store but also be able to maintain contact with a friendly salesperson and check out quickly and painlessly, especially on busy days. It’s a practice that many other retailers could learn from.

If you see Runner in action the next time you’re in an Apple retail store, you’ll now know why it’s being used and the thinking behind that Apple sales practice.

Comments

Former Apple Store Worker

They have been using runners as far back as 2005. This is not new.

John

Apple store in Edmonton used this system during the back to school blitz.

vasic

I wonder how unique this system is, compared to other retail outfits (BestBuy, Macy’s, Bloomingdales…). I wouldn’t be surprised if it was unique to Apple.

It just goes to show how customer experience is the most significant factor in Apple’s retail strategy.

N8nnc

I noticed this system for my last two purchases (Mac mini & iPad). It’s always pretty busy, but I don’t think these were unusually high-traffic times. I did note that having the constant contact was nice, putting the customer first rather than material retrieval.

Lee Bennett

I haven’t experienced the sales technique you wrote about, but certainly does sound like it would speed up product acquisition for items that aren’t kept in the showroom area.

However, this doesn’t address what I feel is a bigger problem with the entire concept of what I’ve come to call the “floating cash registers.” I *despise* the notion that I have to roam around a store to find an employee to check out with. Standing near an employee who’s talking to other customers gives the same—if not worse—feeling of being stranded. And you see another employee who appears to be finished, so you abandon the one you were waiting for to head to the available employee, only to either have him/her caught by another customer, or the employee bolts off somewhere, ignoring the fact that you were approaching them. By this time, someone else is waiting for the original employee you’d been waiting on.

No, I hate this model. Keep a few fixed transaction points where I can wait in a proper queue. Kudos for attempts at innovation, but I’d rather wait an extra 3-4 minutes in a line to check out than feel like a doofus roaming around looking for someone to check me out.

vasic

Lee Bennett,

You sound like you haven’t been to an Apple store yet. They all have traditional registers (with Macbook Pros as Point-of-Sale machines) and proper queues.

N8nnc

I think they roll out changes, so my store may not be representative of yours, but mine has no registers. Check-out is by iPhone (with a expansion battery, with maybe a card scanner).  For busy times, my store has an area to queue for service. It’s a challenge - either wait in a long queue or wait for someone to get free. I suppose they could have a concierge at the front that could match you up with a person to serve you, but that might be hard to coordinate with customers that didn’t use the concierge (this is essentially the “wait in a long queue” solution).

rbfenzlaff

I purchased an Apple TV last Friday at the Aspen Grove store in Colorado. Although it was not very busy, it seemed an exceedingly long time for them to bring it out. Maybe it was a fluke?

jfbiii

Every place I’ve ever been that used a similar system (Circuit City, anyone?) has been shite. There’s nothing worse than having to stand around waiting with someone who could be going to get your product and having to wait in a cue that you can’t see.

vasic

jfbiii:

Sounds like you haven’t been to an Apple store yet (either; like Lee Benett above).

Every Apple store has a check-out area. Majority have the usual registers with queues, although ‘usual’ is a relative term; rather than big counter, with PoS Windows terminals (LCD monitor, card swiper, barcode scanner, big-ass drawer for cash), Apple stores usually have a small, sleek stand with a MacBook Pro on top of it, with a little handheld barcode scanner and a little card swiper on the side. Where they don’t have these ‘registers’, there is the iPhone activation area where you can queue up and check out.

There?s nothing worse than having to stand around waiting with someone who could be going to get your product

That someone is in fact notifying another person in the storage to bring your product right up, rather than making a trip back there himself, getting side-tracked by other customers on the way there and back, leaving you waiting for him, wondering if he actually forgot.

Roaming check-out agents are IN ADDITION to the designated check-out points. In other words, if for some reason a roaming check-out agent doesn’t notice you right away, you can always walk towards the queue, wait there and pay, just like in any other store.

You ALWAYS have a choice to do this the old-fashioned way (by waiting patiently in a queue).

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