Minority Report: Why I loathe Apple Stores

Face piercings and excessive nodding don't work in the UK

Face piercings and excessive nodding don't work in the UK

How can a self-professed Mac fan hate Apple's retail establishments? Seb Janacek explains…

Over the years I have come to truly loathe Apple Stores.

I've been in five now, all in the UK, and they all make me queasy. They shouldn't do, because they're full of gleaming new Apple kit, line upon line of MacBooks and tiny, shiny chromatic MP3 players. Mmm… lovely. My problem is with the people who work in the Apple Stores.

Let me share a recent experience. A month ago, my iPhone headphones started giving me electric shocks in my ears.

Just little shocks but unpleasant nonetheless. They shouldn't be electrocuting me - I know this because I checked the manual.

Given I insured my iPhone, I figured my headphones were also covered. They are. My friend Adam got a new pair by taking them into the Apple Store and shouting at the staff until he got a replacement set.

Being a meeker soul than my friend, I tried the polite approach. A dreadlocked, pasty-faced girl with enough metal in her face to cause a full-scale security shutdown in Terminal 5 approached me with a reassuring smile on her lips and a patronising look in her eyes. "Hey, can I help you?" No, apparently not.

I explained the problem and was told to book an appointment with a Genius - although not for another week because they were all very busy.

I made the appointment and headed home. In silence, obviously, out of fear of tiny bolts of lightning bouncing off my eardrums.

On the day of my appointment, I turned up with my iPhone headphones and MacBook Pro for the lunchtime appointment with my Genius - only to find no employees had made it to the store on account of two heady inches of snow.

This I suspected because the day's post was sat behind the door in an untidy pile, totally at odds with the perfectly straight lines of notebooks, iMacs, iPhones and sundry that lay tantalisingly beyond.

I wondered why they had bothered taking my iPhone number and MobileMe email address - surely it was for precisely an occasion.

With no other options, I went online and made another appointment for later that day.

However, this anecdote is not the only reason why I dislike Apple Stores. Although the experience has done little to help my opinion.

It's definitely the Apple Store employees I have a problem with - but it isn't entirely their fault. UK Apple Store employees are not individuals; they are an extension of Apple's brand, messaging and retail strategy.

Given the company's overtly US focus, the messaging is very American - more precisely, Californian - in its tone. This might work well in the US and indeed it does given how profitable the Stores are per square metre. It's just that when the same formula is applied to UK stores something is lost in translation.

First there's that Californian demeanour: self-satisfied, unruffled, unhurried and slightly unshaven. It almost makes me feel like rooting for the PC guy. Almost.

Then there's that attitude. I don't want to answer another question about how often I edit HD video on my iMac while you press your finger against the bottom of your nose and nod sagely. I just want you to tell me how many in-store 1TB external hard drives support Firewire 800.

(Very few apparently - these days 'Firewire' is a dirty word in Apple Stores.)

And before you accuse all Mac users or Apple fans of being smug and unshaven, we're not. At least not smug. I don't want faux interest and excessive nods in an Apple Store any more than I want a gigahertz obsession from a teenage, mono-browed PC-selling shop employee for whom Apple is a dirty word.

In UK Apple Stores the cultural mismatch seems forced and awkward simply because it is. It's a second-rate impression of an ideal done by people with no real talent for ventriloquism.

Naturally, this is a personal thing. Apple Stores may be great for first-time buyers, or people who liked to be asked if they need help once every minute, or foreign exchange students who need to instant message mama back home.

Personally, I'll be sticking with my local reseller. The guy who's looked after me for 10 years doesn't furrow his brow in mock interest to my questions and even gives me a discount from time to time.

Even though he can't really afford to and I shouldn't really accept it, given there are a lot less people working in the shop than prior to the opening of the shiny Apple Store half a mile away.

At least he knows me for the Mac-obsessed, though technically inept, customer I am - rather than a Luddite who has failed to grasp how video podcasting could release my untapped creativity.

It's a kind of customer service worth treasuring and almost one worth being electrocuted for.