Apple Needs More Than Its Own Store
For some time now, the rumor sites have flat out sworn that Apple will open a line of "high street" boutiques.
Regardless of the veracity of their claims, it is a good idea.
Other than the Megahertz thing and getting product on store shelves in a timely fashion, Apple's biggest challenge is the pitiful shopping experience that customers still experience to this day.
Go into nearly any CompUSA, Sears, or Circuit City, and you will see something disturbing. I'm not talking about poorly merchandised Apple products, for many stores do a good, though not excellent, job of putting Macs where customers can see them. Better than a few years ago, anyway.
But what is more disturbing is the poor shopping experience that results from having to deal with poorly trained and clueless sales people. Many people don't know a Power Mac from a Big Mac, much less the finer points of the products. From the customers I've talked to, this is the biggest frustration. Many a person has told me that they've literally gone into a store with a fistful of money, ready to buy a Mac, only to have a sales person a) attempt to talk them out buying a Mac b) give them the brush off or c) turn them off by they utter cluelessness.
And that was from customer feedback given to me last weekend, not last year.
But poor retail service, I fear, is only the tip of the iceberg, as exemplified by an e-mail I received tonight.
Tonight, an American Mac user living in Japan decided to write me. He recounted meeting some Apple employees. He expressed his excitement about Apple's resurgence. He began to discuss a few things about Apple's product line. His excitement dampened when he realized that they didn't share his enthusiasm.
He basically described it as talking to Apple sales people, who had a 99 percent emphasis on sales and one-percent emphasis on Apple and Mac.
His e-mail was essentially a rant on how Apple employees don't know as much about the Mac and about Apple as they did in the past. Where's Guy Kawasaki when you need him?
I tried to explain that I don't think Steve Jobs wants Apple enthusiasts anymore. He wants Apple to be a mainstream company, so there is no room in the agenda for non-mainstream employees (read enthusiasts and self-styled "evangelists").
For the past few months, I've come to grips with this aspect of the New Apple. I get the impress that we fervent Mac supports are akin to the relatives that you don't want others to find out about.
But in many ways, that type of "relative" is exactly the kind of person that Apple needs, if something like an "Apple boutique" is expected to succeed. Sure, I am probably considered an Apple fanatic, but I'll match my professionalism up against any current Apple employee. Anytime, anywhere.
I think it is a mistake for Apple to avoid those of us who are arguably Apple's most valuable asset. Sure, we will occasionally publish a web page or two critical of Apple, but that's small fries.
There are many of us who'd gladly work part-time or full-time for an Apple-branded store. But I fear that those people will be intentionally overlooked in Apple's strategy to gain respectability.
It's almost inevitable that Apple will open up some sort of store. The on-line store is only a precursor to the real thing. For God's sake, how can you overlook Gateway Country? And they have no style. An Apple store is surely to set the standard for PC shopping. The question is how to do it and maintain a retail presence in places like Micro Center and CompUSA, because an Apple Store may cannabilize those stores -- their stores are staffed with bona fide Mac users. The rest of us, Apple either can't afford or can't attract from better-paying jobs.
Regardless, an Apple store is a good thing. I honestly think it can be done in a way that current Apple retailers aren't left hanging. Actually, such a store could complement the current franchises quite well. And, besides, an Apple-branded store in a metro center is some of the best advertising that money can buy.
Think Different, my ass! That's Think Business. Think, period.
Your comments are welcomed.