Apple store veteran: We're like car salesmen or Best Buy employees now

As Apple places more and more emphasis on services, is it putting more and more emphasis on store employees selling add-ons? A current store employee says it's so.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
The Apple Computers Store in Sydney Australia

Inside, things are changing. But is it good?

Phillip Danze / Getty Images

Change can bring with it a certain brutality.

You might be happy with your world at a certain point. That happiness might last for years.

Then slowly, creepily you discover that world is gone and the new one feels rancid with injustice.

I judge this from the pained words of a current Apple store employee who isn't named Boris. (I agreed to withhold his real name.)

Boris claims -- in his store, at least -- that things have taken a turn for the worse. And, as far as he's concerned, this really isn't the Apple he joined many years ago.

"Store leaders and senior managers benefit from metrics, but employees see no benefit. There's no holiday bonus and no incentive. And as for promotions, they're a joke," he told me.

You might think this is fairly standard fare for so many businesses. Stay in them long enough and you'll see the principles that made you stay there erode like, well, faith in most institutions these days.

This Apple store employee, however, believes there's a specific reason for the new, new, ugly world: Apple's enthusiasm for building its services business and the local management's methods to kowtow to that enthusiasm.

As the company shifts away from being the iPhone company, its services business has become increasingly important. At the last earnings call, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed record numbers from the add-ons sector of Cupertino's money haul.

What this looks like at store level -- at least according to my whistleblower -- is a touch ugly.

"Management has their own agenda and is extremely superficial in relation to employees. The past month we are pushing AppleCare as if we are car salesmen or Best Buy employees," he told me. "Our downloads morning meetings are juvenile games as to the pushing of Applecare+."

Again, you might expect this could be the case. AppleCare -- as with so many insurance products -- is a very good deal for the insurer.

In this Apple store, though, my source believes the love of AppleCare has gone too far: "Promotions, if you can call them that, are not related to the job descriptions on Apple's jobs website, but are about how many AppleCare sales there are. Or business introductions."

This is retail. Shouldn't this sort of thing be expected, despite the fact that if you ask Apple store employees whether they're incentivized in any way -- and I have -- all will deny it?

Sometimes, though, if you look around you can see what matters to management. So you do whatever it takes to get promoted.

My frustrated source sees darker days ahead: "I'm sure the next metric will be pushing Apple Cards."

Listening to Boris incites a true sadness.

"I love Apple itself, and enjoy working with customers immensely," he said. Those above him don't seem to care about these things quite as much, he added.

Some will say Boris has stayed too long. As Apple now allows other stores to repair more of its products, perhaps the whole Genius aura of stores will begin to diminish, to be replaced by an even greater emphasis on sell, sell, sell.

"Tenured employees are, for the most part, barely making more per hour than inexperienced 'new hires'," Boris told me. "In our market, if you worked at Starbucks or Target, it's very easy to get a job at our Apple store."

That could be a result of relatively full employment. It could also be a new drive to make even more money out of the stores.

Naturally, I asked Apple whether Cupertino Central was putting greater pressure on stores to deliver more revenue. I'll update, should I ever hear.

Boris's views certainly aren't unique. Earlier this year, I wrote about a departed Apple store manager who couldn't bear the way the company's ethos had moved away from what he saw as a Steve Jobs idealism to a more standard, less inspirational working environment.

But where would someone like Boris go, if he chose to leave? And he doesn't really want to leave. Yet he says his local management are exacerbating the situation with their attitude. 

Those who complain, he says, are simply told: "Maybe Apple isn't a good fit for you."

Maybe sometimes you just have to accept that things may never be the same again.

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