Apple's retail focus should be on customers, not cash

At Apple, our most important resource, our soul, is our people. So starts the Apple Credo. When I started a year-and-a-half stint working for Apple retail in 2008, we were given and told to carry it around in our name-tag lanyards. (I picture some higher-up somewhere had grand visions of Specialists rushing to the back of the house to consult their credo in the midst of a tough interaction with a customer.)

From the reports Ive heard in the last few weeks, however, it seems like one employee hasnt looked at his Credo lately. Apples new senior vice president of retail, John Browett, has been accused by and of cutting employees and their hours in the name of cost-efficiency and keeping stores from becoming too bloated. Rumors got so out of hand that company spokeswoman Kristin Huguet took the uncharacteristic-for-Apple step of publicly commenting on those reports, that the changes were a mistake& and are being reversed.

Boy, I sure hope so. While I dont doubt everyone at Apple is happy that retail boasted a modest 22 percent profit margin last quarter, the second the company forgets that the stores are not solely about selling computers is when its retail operation becomes a failure.

Though I stopped working for Apple in 2009, I still believe that, at its heart, the Apple Store is about caring for its customers, not its cashflow. Its about the person whos never even seen a Mac before, walking in and interacting with an iMac. Its the about the woman who couldnt turn her computer on when she started coming to the store for workshops, but just walked out with a self-created slideshow movie for her daughters wedding.

When I worked the sales floor, we were told to listen to our customers. To find out what they needed. To resist the urge to push a sale. If they needed five visits to decide to buy a computer, then visits one through four would be about answering every question they came up with, assuaging their fears, andabove allmaking them feel at home. A manager of mine once told me, The Apple Store is a place to ask questions and find out how a Mac fits into your life. The fact that we sell the computers is just gravy.

So if John Browett hopes to turn the gravy of the Apple Stores operations into its sole existence, hes potentially looking at a catastrophic mistake. Yes, Apple Stores are frequently over-staffed. Some years ago, on the morning of Schnäppchenfreitag (a particularly busy holiday weekend) we had almost 40 employees crowding our small store, regimented and ready to work their sections. For the first hour, it might have been overkill. But once the crowds arrived, we were ready for them. We didnt let a single customer wander around without making sure they could find what they were looking for.