After reading Walter Isaacson’s latest book, the biography of Steve Jobs, I was intrigued by Isaacson’s observations that Steve Jobs had reinvented retail.  I wasn’t aware that he had.  To prove Walter wrong, I shopped at an Apple store this week.

I came away with my tail between my legs.  Apple does retail in ways I had never imagined possible.  Here are a few of my take aways from that experience.

1.  The first thing to strike you is the absence of cash registers.  Sorry about your luck NCR.  Sales clerks bounce around the store carrying a device that looks all the world like a cell phone, only a little thicker, has a wanding device on the one end, and a groove on the right side for swiping your credit card.  (I forgot to ask what they do when someone pays cash; perhaps that doesn’t happen anymore either.  On second thought, they probably take your cash, say they’ll be right back, run to the storage room to make change.)

2.  He asked me if I would like a discount.  It never occurred to me to ask.  He slipped away for a minute, and then came back with a big grin, and said this was my lucky day!  I qualified!  Too good to be true!  Merry Christmas to me! “How much is the discount?” I asked.  “One percent,” he beamed!

3.  Upon completion of my purchase they wanted to know if they could simply e-mail my receipt rather than print it out.  I said I would prefer both. Whereupon, the clerk nimbly squatted under one of the oak display tables, pointed his wanding device at an unseen object mounted under the table, and a long strip of paper started spewing out into his hand.  Reminded me of a concealed, remote controlled toilet paper dispenser.  He stood up, folded it, and handed it to me, a cordial smile on his face the entire time.

4.  The contents were then slipped into a durable plastic bag with all kinds of strings hanging from the open end.  I asked what they were for.  He said the bag is a backpack.  Just slip it on; you won’t have to bother carrying it.  This will enable you to text with both thumbs as you walk out to the parking lot.

5.  A few other things struck me as rather unusual.  I was the oldest person in the store, by far.  The sales clerks all appeared to be college or high school students.

6.  I asked a few technical questions, but soon wearied of it.  They spoke to me in a vernacular as incomprehensible and complex as Mandarin.  I was embarrassing myself.  They tried hard not to be patronizing.  I consoled myself, assured that there wasn’t a clerk in the store that knew what a magneto was.

The magneto provided the energy for the spark plugs of the Model T to fire before the invention of a battery in a car.

7.  I was a little disappointed with their red t-shirts with the Apple logo.  For some reason I expected them to all have on a black, long sleeved pullovers, blue jeans, and sneakers.

8.  Only a few had the flat abdomen emblematic of Steve Jobs, but then again, Steve didn’t make a habit of eating at the food courts in a mall.  Truth be told, he didn’t eat much at all.

Apparently I’ve lived in an era that has travelled at warp speed, four generations of progress having been compressed into one.

I jumped back into my four-on-the-floor Neon and headed home.  Bet you none of those guys even know what a clutch is either.

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  1. Enjoyed the article and update on a very modern store! I’ve been in third world countries where it takes about 5 people to help you with one purchase — at the crank cash register! Thanks for your account!

    • peter says:

      You remind me of eating in restaurants on inland China where five women in uniform are at the front door – their only purpose being that of greeting you!

  2. Ah, those were just things you could see on the surface. What you couldn’t see was the way they track customers once they’re in the store. For instance, tonight my family and I were in the store looking at some of their AirPlay compatible speakers (allow you to play your music from your Mac or iOS device using your wi-fi connection). I asked a red-shirt if someone could help us. He asked me my name, typed it in his iPad and soon someone found us (based on the notes he put in about me – I was wearing a red jacket, they would look for that). The first guy who came to help us didn’t know a thing about the speakers, he tried but he was useless. Then as we were leaving an un-related red shirt came up and asked if we had found the information we needed on the speakers, he was much more helpful – and it left me wondering how he knew b/c as best as I could tell none of these guys ever visited with each other about us. Then, there is their genius bar which is a pretty awesome experience. Finally PGD, they do take cash, the lady in front of me paid with greenbacks, and yes the associate did have to go back to get change:-)

  3. peter says:

    Interesting Michael! You’re right! I didn’t know they had moles all over the store. You’d make a pretty good Apple employee yourself. You’d know more than all of them put together.

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