Apple: The Perfect Retail Experience

Happy Birthday to My Totally Awesome Daughter Holly!

Disclaimer: Obviously people will have different experiences at different Apple stores at different times. This is just a single experience, in a single store, at a single point in time.

Today is my daughter Holly’s birthday. She’s been asking for an iPad for her birthday for months. I’ve been telling her that an iPad is too expensive, but I broke down yesterday after work and stopped by the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco to buy her one. She was thrilled and ecstatic to receive it — can you tell by her photo above 🙂

I’ve purchased many things at many different Apple Stores over the years, but yesterday’s experience was so fluid and flawless that I thought I’d write a short post about it.

5pm (approximately) I walk into the store. I don’t get more than two feet into the store before making eye contact with an Apple employee strategically positioned by the door. “Welcome to Apple,” he says. “Can I help you something?”

“I’d like to buy an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, great,” he says. “Would you like an iPad or an iPad Mini?”

“I’d like an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, do you just want the basic 16GB one?”


“Alright, hold on, I’ll be right back.”

Less than two minutes later he returns with a new iPad in a shrink wrapped box.

“Would you like to put this on a credit card?”

“Yes,” handing him my American Express.

“Can I see your ID?”

I hand him my drivers license, he confirms it’s me, hands it back, says thanks and runs my card through a hand held device.

While the device is running the card he asks me, “are you buying your iPad for business or pleasure?”

I tell him that it’s for my daughter’s birthday. “Great,” he says.

A few seconds later he hands me his electronic device and asks me to sign it with my finger. I sign it with my finger.

“Would you like a printed copy of your receipt, or is just an email fine,” he asks. (God I HATE printed receipts, email receipts are sooooo awesome!).

I tell him that an email is perfect. “Ok,” he confirms, “to tom(at)”

“That would be great,” I answer back.

“Alright we’re all set then,” he says, “do you need a bag?”

“No,” I reply, “thanks for the help,” and put the iPad into my own bag and walk out the store — and just like that, four minutes later, I’m done.

This morning I received a follow up survey in my email about my experience at the Apple store. How could I not give them the highest possible ranking in every category?

Being able to walk into a store and purchase something right there at the entrance in less than five minutes is the absolute height of customer service. It’s delighting a customer who will certainly remember that experience the next time it comes to making a purchase and who will be back. No wonder so many people are buying Apple products.

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  1. Celine says:

    It’s nice when a company offers quality customer service. It seems like it’s hard to find nowadays.

    Hey, TH, my birthday is this Saturday. Will you adopt me before then? 😉 I’m sure your daughter was thrilled with her gift.

  2. Your Mom says:

    Why on Earth did you voluntarily give up your ID?! For the Apple employee to even ask that is a violation of most credit card company’s policies, and the merchant can be banned from accepting cards if they’re in violation.

  3. jackie L. says:

    Definitely going to get the iPad from Apple have been comparing different ones. Hope Holly loves hers! Sounds like customer service has come a long way!

  4. The Seneschal says:

    I had the exact opposite experience at Best Buy today.

  5. Clearlight says:

    @Your Mom: The VISA and Mastercard merchant agreements do not preclude a merchant from asking for identification. They prohibit requiring identification as a condition of purchase, but the merchant is free to ask.

    The American Express merchant agreement contains no such provision and in California the law allows merchants to ask for identification as long as the information is not being recorded.

  6. Jim Nix says:

    good post and totally on the money – they are kicking everyone’s ass for a reason

  7. Melody Migas says:

    Wow, and they didn’t try to push any extras on you? Nice!

  8. Bill Wilson says:

    I’ve had the exact same experience at Apple on several occasions. I don’t know how they manage to train their employees all to that level but they do. Other companies could learn a lot about customer service from them – but don’t!

  9. RandySch says:

    Yes, this has been my experience as well …numerous times. And there’s a new way to purchase at the Apple store – sans any employee help (applies only to accessories).

    1. Find what you need.
    2. Check yourself out, using your iPhone (it may also work with other phones I didn’t check).

    That’s it!

    Very cool!

  10. The Seneschal says:

    @Billy Wilson
    I used to work at an Apple Store. It’s a combination of hiring nice people… then put the fear of being fired if they say the wrong thing. That combo seems to work, even though Apple Stores have such a high turnover rate.

  11. I have approximately the same experience at the kebab place around the corner… I agree, it feels great 😉

  12. Philip Arthur says:

    Honestly I have been against a lot of Apple policies and restrictions for the past few years, but I never bash their bad without stating their good. I may not agree with everything Apple does but they definitely make great products and have the best customer service I have ever experienced.

    The fact that I can say that I bought my old iPod in 2009 and it was the same experience you had in 2013 with your iPad for you daughter shows how good a job Apple does. The service was exactly the same. That said I am sure they have streamlined the back end of the whole process to make it even smoother for both the customer and Apple employee.

    On another note I bought and Asus TF300 tablet last year and it is already crapping out on me. The hoops I have been jumping through with customer service has been very annoying. So much so that I am considering get the iPad Mini and selling the Android tablet when I get it back.

  13. Mike Frisco says:

    Honestly, this entire post sounds very consumer-hostile to me. Why should I need to talk to a gatekeeper to obtain a product for purchase before I even pay?

    I should be able to walk in, select a product from a shelf, bring it to a register, and pay.

  14. Thomas Hawk says:

    Mike, waiting in line for registers suck. Also you have to know where to go in the store to find things. Having some greet you within 5 seconds of entering the store and fetching the thing for you and checking you out of the store without having to wait in line rocks.

  15. RandySch says:

    I hope everyone caught what I posted above. You don’t need ANYONE to help you OR check you out when purchasing accessories (as it take your money or credit card).

    1. Find what you need.
    2. Check yourself out, using your iPhone (it may also work with other phones I didn’t check).

    That’s it!

  16. Mike Dooley says:

    My wife just related to me the exact same positive experience. She was absolutely blown away at the level of service, and the ease in which she was able to make her purchase.

    So many stores and companies are completely missing how important customer service is. Apple just gets it.

  17. Apple is changing the way other large companies do business. They are simply the best at making you happy.

  18. Clearlight says:

    How is this experience any different than the one you get when you walk into a McDonalds?

  19. Thomas Hawk says:

    Clearlight. Most of the time at McDonald’s you have to wait in line. Waiting in line sucks. There is not someone at the McDonald’s greeting you at the door. I suppose though applying some basic fast food efficiency to a computer retailer is sort of what Apple is doing if that’s your point. My experience with other gadget stores though (i.e. Verizon for phones, ugh — best buy, etc.) is that they are nowhere near as smooth as Apple — or McDonalds.

    McDonald’s on the other hand does have a drive through, and sitting in your car is probably even better than Apple’s model. Maybe we need some Apple drive throughs.

  20. Clearlight says:

    Hawk. It’s no surprise with the resources Apple has that they could create a consumer friendly retail environment. But certainly they’ve created nothing new in doing so and my McDonald’s analogy, while tongue-in-cheek, is not that far off. Maybe if Nordstroms started putting McDonald’s franchises in their stores?

  21. Thomas Hawk says:

    Clearlight, I bet the average person walking into a Nordstrom spends more than four minutes in the store before coming out with their purchase. Efficiency I guess is what I’m commending Apple for. Fast food restaurants, of course, study efficiency. Most of the retail world though is not near as efficient at a transaction as Apple was in this case.

    Things that suck about most retail experiences today.

    1. Waiting in line. God waiting in line blows.

    2. Having to find someone to help you. Why is it that whenever you go to buy something at the Home Depot that every person there to help is already helping someone else? And usually someone else who has a long 30 minute complicated problem, like some guy is asking the Home Depot how to build his deck when all you need to know is where the nails are.

    The bigger the retailer, the harder it is to find what you need to find and get out of there. Many retailers are way too big.

    By positioning someone right at the door who immediately assits you this solves that problem. Rather than this person helping you though and then sending you over to line where everybody else is waiting, at Apple the guy just checks your purchase out right there with this little handheld device. No waiting in line at all. That’s awesome.

  22. Thomas Hawk says:

    Also I love email receipts. It’s good to have a receipt in case the thing breaks or you need to return it, but paper is such a hassle. It gets lost, etc. I hate even touching paper. If the receipt is emailed then I don’t have to deal with paper, but can search my gmail if I ever need it. Most retailers don’t offer email receipts — they should.

    At McDonald’s getting a receipt is not as important.

  23. Thomas Hawk says:

    speaking of McDonald’s btw:

  24. Clearlight says:

    Why do you think they called him Speedee?

  25. Chris Mear says:

    The problem with this system is that it works fantastically when the store isn’t busy (as was your experience), but is a complete pain for the customer if the store is busy.

    When there are more customers waiting to be served than there are employees available to serve them, having one obvious place where you can queue for service is a straightforward solution.

    Instead, you have to search around the store for an employee who might be free soon, and then negotiate the ‘invisible queue’ of other customers who are already there waiting for this employee’s time. It’s frustrating. And this latter experience has, more often than not, been my experience of Apple stores.

  26. Sam Scholes says:

    I love Apple for that reason too. I need a new battery for my MacBook this weekend, the old one is 5 years old and on the way out, and the experience was smooth. I love the iPhone register things they carry around. No old cash registers. Apple has figured out a lot of great stuff. I wish other retailers would get a clue.