Analysts hail Apple as the "new" Nordstrom. However, unlike the almost mythic quality of the department store, at Apple's retail stores, you will need a receipt, hardcopy or email, to exchange a problem disc.
Earlier this week, I purchased the Snow Leopard upgrade package at my local university bookstore. It's within walking distance of our apartment and I know the staff since I once worked in the campus library.
Later on Thanksgiving Day, I performed a Time Machine backup and cloned my system, and then attempted the upgrade. Unhappily, the DVD wouldn't run — I could mount it, but when it came to rebooting and making the upgrade disc the startup volume, it failed. The problem wasn't the drive, since I was able to run the installers for iLife '09 and iWork '09 that I had also purchased.
Of course, the university is shut down tight over the holiday weekend and I couldn't return the disc. So, I went to a nearby mall on Black Friday and attempted to swap the disc at the Apple Store. No go. It seems that there's an internal stock-keeping issue in taking a disc bought at a non-Apple store and replacing it with one from an Apple store. Whatever. I can wait until Monday morning.
Still, this is far from the level of customer experience that Nordstrom is reported to provide (or so they did in the past). If you had a sweater or another SKU that was sold at Nordstrom, the store would almost always accept its return, even if it wasn't purchased at Nordstrom, especially if you sought an exchange or credit.
Analyst Michael Gartenberg last week wrote on SlashGear that Apple was no longer the Nordstrom of Tech, but was instead the "new Nordstrom."
What’s making the difference is just how much mindshare Apple is building as a result of these types of tales of support love. There’s a great urban legend about Nordstrom’s that they actually took a return on snow tires. Years ago, I did a presentation for Nordstrom’s in Seattle and had a chance to chat with some of the family members who still are active in running things. Of course, I had to ask the question: is the story about the snow tires really true? There was a pause in the room and folks looked at each other and smiled. Finally, one of the family responded. I won’t tell you if it’s true or not, but here’s the thing, they’re not telling that story about Macy’s.
They’re also not telling them about Dell, Sony or Microsoft. Regardless of whether they’re exaggerated over time or not, these stories help further build mindshare today, and mindshare today leads to market share tomorrow.
Now, I really can't complain about the Apple Store manager's decision. And I've received excellent service and help at that store, including the covering of a repair for a part that was broken within the time span of my AppleCare warranty but not brought into the store until after it had expired. The sales staff is welcoming and efficient.
Apple's reputation is deserved: the Apple Store provides a great experience to its customers and keeps being made better with tony stores packed with helpful Genius Bar repair persons. But let's get real, the Apple Store is no Nordstrom.
Holiday Tip: If you want to return something to an Apple Store, it appears that you will have to have bought it at an Apple Store and have the receipt to prove it.