I have heard and read a lot about the Apple Experience at its retail stores but never experienced it for myself. Over the past few years I have purchased an iPod Touch, two iPhones, an iPad, a MacBook and a MacBook Air. All these purchases were made at small outlets like a shop in airport or a large retailer in foreign country since Apple products tend to be rather expensive in India.
I wanted to get the Apple Experience first hand. So yesterday I went to the large Apple Store in San Francisco on 1 Stockton Street and bought a 15 inch MacBook Pro with retina display. This is what exactly happened.
As I walked into the packed store I was greeted at the entrance by an Apple employee who asked me how he could help me. I knew exactly what I wanted and told him so. He pointed me to the MacBook Pro section of the store where I was greeted by another Apple employee. I told him the precise model of MacBook Pro I wanted and he tapped something into a retrofitted iPod Touch that every Apple store employee carries around. He told me that my computer was on its way and got talking to me about where I was from and stuff. At the table were other Apple employees chatting with other customers, answering their questions and helping them decide what they wanted.
Within a minute another Apple store employee walked over to us with the model of MacBook Pro I wanted. We continued chatting as he scanned the tag off the box using the retrofitted iPod Touch and I handed him my credit card for him to swipe. After he was done he asked me “Sir, I know you already have a MacBook. But I need to ask you anyways. Do you need help setting up your computer?” I was about to politely decline and walk out of the store with MacBook Pro in hand two minutes after I entered it. But I thought for a while and replied, “You know what? Yes, I would love to have you help me set up my computer.” He looked at me, smiled questioningly and pointed me to a set of tables in the Personal Setup section of the store.
There I was greeted by another Apple employee. I explained to her who I was and what I did for a living and added that I has come for the Apple experience. She said, “Well, in that case I shall give you the whole shebang. Please take a seat.”
She placed the box in front of me and asked me to tear out the shrink wrap. Then lift the lid of the beautiful box slowly as if a ceremony had just begun. I kept smiling all along as I tried to act like a person who had just bought his first computer. She knew what I was trying to do, smiled and sportingly played along. I started the MacBook Pro, went through the initial set up, connected to the free WiFi at the Apple Store and synched to iCloud. She then proceeded to explain a few programs like LaunchPad, Mission Control, Mail and Safari.
After she was done I asked her, “So what happens to people who aren’t set up with an Apple ID and stuff?“. She replied, “That’s the true value of personal set up. We have people bringing their mom’s here to buy them a computer. Some walk in alone and are quite scared seeing everyone else talking and doing stuff they don’t understand. We sit them down and first put them at ease. We just don’t take their money, put a box in their hands and have them go figure it out themselves. If they feel like it, we have them create an Apple ID, explain what it can be used for. Just the basics without confusing them too much. It can be a lot to take for someone new to computers.”
She continued, “We don’t get paid by commissions here. So I can sit with someone all day and even have them come in the next day, ask for me and continue the conversation. The bottom line is we want you to have a good time. And that cannot happen until you are absolutely comfortable“.
This is the Apple Experience. Or least a part of it. I could walk out with a MacBook Pro in two minutes or I could sit all day and have someone help me understand what’s best for me and help me with it. This is very powerful.
Ever since I started working on Cubify, I have started paying special attention to consumers and the world they live in. Its very easy to make products (software or hardware) and offer services to people who know what they want. It boils down to a matter of matching their expectations with your offerings. The consumer world is an entirely different ball game. Consumers need to be treated and catered to differently. Very differently.
This is something Steve Jobs understood very well. People like us who know too much argue over technical superiority of operating systems, software and hardware. The consumer world has very little to do with all that. Its more about what the will make the consumer happy. Unlike in the B2B business, consumers are not always looking to solve problems. Sometimes they don’t even know they want something until they have experienced it. And often times its the experience that decides whether they want something or not.