Apple Tunes Retail Experience with “Runner”

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

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.