When Did Apple Stores Become Apple Showrooms?

Apple retail stores were a glorious place, in the beginning. After many years of being trained to shop via catalog and eventually online, it was a revelation to walk into an entire store filled with products for your own computer. Software and hardware designed to work with your computer, where everyone else shopping had the same kind of computer, where nobody rolled their eyes when you asked for a FireWire cable or wanted to know if there was a Mac version. It was beautiful.

Then with the iPhone and iPad, even more people were going to Apple stores. It was nice to talk to someone who was also excited about your iPhone, which wasn’t always the case in carrier stores (which often had sales “bounties” on Android devices). Some Apple stores have even been upgraded, becoming lovely locations to visit, as opposed to the close quarters of some “first generation” locations.

What was easily the most wonderful part of the Apple retail store experience was walking in with money, and walking out with stuff. Unless you lived in an area with a CompUSA that had an Apple section, or in an area with Apple Authorized Resellers, this simply wasn’t done, and even then it wasn't always easy. So having that opportunity today in a lot of places is wonderful to those who did without for a long time.

Fifth Avenue "Cube" Apple store.

It seems that however slowly, Apple stores are becoming more “Apple showrooms” than Apple stores. There are two new products coming on April 24, which you can see in Apple stores now: the new MacBook, and the Apple Watch. But if you are hoping to walk in with a wad of cash and trade it for one of these shiny new things, you’re out of luck. Apple: Taking the “Retail” out of Apple Retail since 2015.

As of this moment, Apple's new MacBook is showing as shipping in 4-6 weeks on all models, which means even if you buy it online right now there’s no guarantee you’ll see it before mid-May. Two Apple retail stores told me if I wanted one I could go online to get it and have it shipped to the store if I wanted help with setup or anything. Both confirmed there were new MacBooks on display to behold, but I can’t just walk in and buy one.

As we have discussed, you can't even look at an Apple Watch without an appointment, and that appointment is separate from the “Yes I Wish To Buy One” appointment, which is just the Apple store employee helping you place that order online.

Things were different in the olden days. I once tried to buy a cable from CompUSA and someone tried to convince me that “Upgrading to a Windows PC” was not only a true statement, but was what I really needed. It was commonplace to search for software to do what I wanted and only hear word of new things passed around like stories at campfires. I especially remember relying on magazines* for the latest information.

Good times.

So to me, the single greatest thing about the Apple stores was never the look of the store, or the classes, or any of those things. It was that I could walk in and buy my computer a treat right that minute. Maybe a program (back when we called them programs) or a new mouse or a bag made to actually fit my new PowerBook G4. So just like the sadness I felt about the iPod Classic being discontinued, having Apple Watches and MacBooks be available to look at, but not buy, seems like a similar “end of an era” situation.

Remember this guy? From the olden days?

Resellers are in the same situation, directing people to the online store since it’s the same as ordering from them (go online, enter payment info, roll temporal dice and chant for a good ship date).

What I hope is that this is an anomaly, a temporary situation. Maybe when there’s more inventory, then the rules will change and you will be able to walk in, get a watch and a gold laptop, and leave. What I fear is that it's not an anomaly, that Apple Stores are being transformed into Apple Showrooms. 

I very much enjoy the Apple Retail experience, so I hope it doesn’t disappear.

* #lolmagazines