Coming to an Apple store near you: The harder sell

Now that Apple has fully and openly declared how important services are for its business, can you expect those services to be pushed at your Apple store?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Will it become a little more services-oriented?

(Image: Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

You're seated comfortably on your United Airlines flight.

Flight attendants have made their announcements. You're about to sit back and relax when, oh, the flight attendant tries to interest you in a credit card. You wince and wish it would all stop.

Yet, before you know it, the flight attendant is walking down the aisle with an application form. Now that's customer service.

Can you imagine that happening in your Apple store quite soon?

I only ask because, after last week's services event, you could be forgiven that Apple is slipping into new ways.

Good Lord, Apple CEO Tim Cook began the show by offering the dictionary definition of service: "The action of helping someone or doing work for someone."

Then, as if to contradict the notion of service being customer-focused, he let slip these words: "You can see how important these services are for us."

It is, indeed, visible. Apple's hardware isn't going away, but the company's profits is already beginning to lean more heavily on these services. And, voilá, here are some new ones.

Whether it be Apple News Plus, the games Arcade, Apple TV Plus, or its brand new, privacy-focused credit card -- in partnership with those bastions of propriety at Goldman Sachs -- Apple will expect to show Wall Street bigger numbers coming from its softer side.

Which may, I fear, present a dilemma for Apple stores.

Once upon a time -- by which I mean not so long ago -- the stores were thought to be the ever-inflating repository of style and fashion. But, as The New York Times noted last week, the most prominent fashion industry executives hired by Cook have all gone.

This includes head of retail Angela Ahrendts, who championed the stores as town squares and palaces of apparent elegance.

But, with the coming of a new pragmatism, isn't it possible that new head of retail -- and still head of HR -- Deirdre O'Brien won't feel so uplifted by mode and feel pressured to deliver more tangible results?

That suspicion has certainly crossed the minds of a couple of Apple store employees I talked to this week.

There's already an intimation that, in some Apple stores, there's subtle pressure to sell Apple Pay. Complaints from customers aren't unknown.

Who'd be surprised, then, if Spaceship HQ begins to place a little more onus on salespeople to spread the service love?

I'm sorry, I meant services love.

No, they might not be directly incentivized, but there are those who say managers are. Moreover, employee promotions can allegedly hinge on ancillary sales.

My own experience in Apple stores has mostly been excellent. I don't like how crowded they can be. However, the employees are often cheery, helpful and remarkably honest.

But the emphasis in the company is changing a little. You can imagine, perhaps, how the Apple Card might become the center of a slightly new approach.

It's already far from easy to switch from iOS to Android -- or vice versa.

Once, though, you embed far more of your financial life inside your iPhone -- and make it exclusive to Apple and its fine, public-spirited partner Goldman Sachs -- the incentive to leave is ever more reduced.

My esteemed Floridian colleague Jason Perlow insists no one over 35 will want an Apple Card. I'm not so sure. I suspect there are still many older (hah) types who think the Apple logo gives them coffee-shop credibility as well as night-club nuance.

The slightly younger, though, may well warm to not having their credit card numbers on display. The might adore staring enthusiastically at every last data-piece of their spending. A few might even be moved by the privacy aspects.

Much of the services business exists to generate consistently rising profits from consistently numerous interactions and transactions.

So there you are in your Apple store, buying a new iPhone or iPad. Your cheery Apple store employee might wonder if you've seen Apple's new, so very gorgeous, credit card.

Perhaps Apple will be tempted to feature it on the store walls. Well, it is so very gorgeous. You'll stare at it together, as if you're in a gallery.

How natural it will seem for a store employee to mention what a fine work of art it is. How natural, too, for them to show you how easy it is to sign up. After all, your phone is right there.

Perhaps this is all against the purity of the Apple ethos. Perhaps Apple believes other, more obvious ways -- such as pestering customers with emails and, gasp, notifications -- will help the services business to grow apace.

Change, though, would not be a surprise.

Some wise grandees wonder, indeed, whether Apple has forgotten how much of a statement about the brand the stores are supposed to be and how oddly awkward the town square palaver and the in-store events have become.

It's a difficult dance between brand statement and profit maximization. Apple's been very good at it over the years.

Don't be surprised, though, if your Apple store staff become just a little more, well, entrepreneurial.

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