3 August 2006
Once upon a time I owned an awarding-winning computer dealership in Memphis, TN. Part of that time we were the leading reseller of Apple products in the area. With a degree in electrical engineering and thirty years of technology industry experience, I’m not completely clueless about technology, obsolescence (whether technical, functional or economic) or sales techniques.
Apple stores could achieve a sales increase of at least fifteen percent with some relatively simple attitude adjustments. First, make sure Apple store employees don’t treat customers as second-class beings. Second, make sure Apple store employees don’t dress like homeless people. Third, make sure Apple store managers don’t look like they are in a drug-induced stupor. Finally, teach Apple store employees to ask just a few simple questions, clarify the answers, empathize just a bit and then offer some suggestions. You see, Apple stores, it’s not about you. It’s about your customers and prospects! Shut up and listen to them!
What set me off? An incident approximately one hour ago at the Apple store in Germantown, TN has frosted me. I’ll tell the story, but some background is needed.
This city and county are having a sales tax holiday beginning tomorrow and running through Sunday. That amounts to a savings of 9.25% on stuff like computers.
Because one of my daughters works in one of those ultra-creative fields, she wants a Mac like many of her compatriots. What better weekend to buy at the Apple store than during a weekend when the 9.25% sales tax is suspended?
Here’s what she wants to buy:
- 2Ghz white Apple MacBook $1299.00
- AppleCare for the MacBook $249.00
- Apple Mighty Mouse $49.00
Add Apple’s Back-to-School Promotion to all of this, and she could wind up with an iPod Nano as part of the deal. However, two of Apple’s (obnoxious) Germantown store employees weren’t able to listen carefully to this question:
What if she buys the Mac tomorrow to take advantage of Tennessee’s sales tax holiday and Apple announces something on Tuesday she return the unopened box for a full credit?
Apple store employee #1 responded with, “we’re not aware of nor are we allowed to comment on any upcoming product announcements.” I know that. Can I return the computer on Tuesday for a full credit and buy whatever newly announced machine better suits her needs? Apple store employee #1 responded with, “we won’t be able to honor the sales tax holiday?” I know that. Can she return the unopened computer for full credit five days after buying it? Apple store employee #1 says, “that’s a question that will have to be answered by someone else; I’m not the one who makes our policies.” Clearly, she not only doesn’t make the policies, she doesn’t have any idea what the policies are.
I then ask her to point me to someone who can answer my questions. Apple store employee #1 says, “only the store manager can answer your questions.” Is the store manager here? In quite a huff Apple store employee #1 says, “I’ll go find her, and walks—I kid you not—three steps to a woman straightening accessory shelves. “This man wants to buy a Mac without paying sales tax and then get credit for it on Tuesday with the sales tax included.”
I’m not making this up. That’s what she said. The store manager then looks at me and says, “no.” After some explanation and corrections to my question, I finally get this answer, “all returns of unopened cartons will be credited with a deduction for a 10% restocking fee.” So, here’s how that scenario looks if Apple announces a new and improved MacBook on Tuesday with exactly the same price as the current one:
The $1597 price—if I buy tomorrow—saves me $147.62 in sales tax. Return it on Tuesday and Apple keeps $159.70 as a restocking fee. I pay the $1597 for some new product and owe the $147.62 of sales tax because the “holiday” is over. So, Apple has cost me $307.32 that I could use to buy external drives, cases, software, memory, etc. Through it all I’ve dealt with people who don’t give two hoots in Hades about me, my daughter, her needs or our business.
The experience this evening makes me realize that there are reasons beyond technical lock-in that breaks the bough! That was Mark Pilgrim’s reason. Obtuse answers and obnoxious treatment are mine. I’ll avoid Apple at all costs. The daughter will get what she wants, but it won’t be because the employees in the Apple store in Germantown, TN want her to have what she wants or show any willingness to make the sales process a pleasant experience!