Secrets of the Apple Store, Revealed by Ex-Employees
Walking into the Apple Store doesn’t feel anything like walking into Best Buy. Lines are long and emotions run high at the Genius Bar, but for some reason, scores of people feel compelled to go in there and just hang out on any given day. It’s a one-of-a-kind retail experience.
But what is it like behind the scenes, inside one of the most infamously secretive companies on the planet? Ever wonder how much store employees really know about unannounced Apple products? Or what the trick is to get your phone replaced for free? I got a handful of former employees and ex-Genii to confess some of the best-kept secrets of the Apple Store. Read on, Apple fiends.
Our sources: Lucas, a five-year veteran who worked his way up the Apple totem pole to Lead Genius; David, a part-time Sales Specialist with four and half years under his belt; and Tony, who finished out his five year stint as a Family Room Specialist. To protect them from the wrath of Tim Cook and Co., we’ve changed their names. Some of what they said has been edited for clarity.
Employees are not allowed to tell you “no”Lucas: "Under no circumstances could we tell a customer directly, 'No, I cannot help with this issue.' This was a tricky one in certain situations. For example, if a customer had to pay $199 to replace their broken iPhone screen, they’d get very upset. If they say something like 'So you’re telling me you can't help me with this, you can't fix my phone?!' we were trained to reply with 'Yes, I absolutely can help you and I'd love to. The replacement is $199.' This could loop around in circles for quite awhile."
They acknowledge certain products suck, even if Apple won’tDavid: “If you had an older MacBook and your charger lasted the life of the computer -- you should be extremely proud of yourself. We had countless people bring theirs in from fraying where the cable connects to the power brick -- and we’d just have to say they’d probably been wrapping it incorrectly or not caring for it properly, even though it was clear a ton of people had the exact same issue.”
Lucas: “Apple Maps was shit then. It's shit now. Also I think the Apple Watch is the dumbest thing ever. Who is that lazy?”
Apple goes to great lengths to keep new products a secret from employeesDavid: “We were never given inside information on any new product releases or designs. I remember when the iPhone 5 came out, we got a shipment of the newer Lightning Cables a little bit before the announcement. Even something as simple as the design of the new cable was such a secret that when they originally sent them to us, they were disguised inside of a mock enclosure that mimicked the older, 30-pin cable design. When the new cable was unveiled, they sent us instructions on how to pry these enclosures open to reveal the newer connector secretly housed inside of the older ones. Crazy stuff.”
They’ve seen your dick pics, and plenty of other wild stuffTony: “The stuff that would pop up on people's computers when we would do a data migration... when the photos imported into iPhoto, it would flash each photo on the screen as it was importing. So. Many. Dick. Pics. Some things just can't be unseen.”
Lucas: “I worked in a high profile trendy area. One time Diplo once came in to inform me he had subjected his iPhone to vodka damage. At least he was honest about it. I swapped his phone out for him and he handed me a joint right in public as a thank you.
"We also had a customer who was very angry with a long wait when we were backed up. He threatened that he had a bomb in his backpack and was going to blow up the store if we didn't help him. He was escorted out by our security and asked not to come back. A week later, a news story broke that there was a bomb threat at a local LA Fitness. A swat team in bomb suits went in. The man was arrested by police. When the mug shot was released: guess who?”
No, it’s not a cultDavid: “The vast majority of people I worked with were already self-proclaimed 'fanboys' from the beginning and were super passionate about Apple. They'd all read the Steve Jobs biography that came out awhile back, owned all of the products, obsessed over all of the rumors, etc.
"For anyone who stays longer than a year or two, the overall love of the brand does get a little worn just because you're dealing with the same people asking the same questions, buying the same things each and every day. You can only be passionate about selling someone an iPhone sooooo many times before you start to die inside when someone asks what Siri is or what 'GB' means.”
They know when you’re full of shitLucas: “It’s very obvious when somebody is lying. Genii know what they’re talking about. The customer generally does not. Don't try to bullshit somebody that knows the product inside out. Sometimes I found myself seeing people waiting in line before I even spoke to them and I'd think in my head ‘This guy is a bullshitter.’"
Tony: “I had a guy try to convince me that the liquid damage was some kind of E.T. fluid from when he was abducted [by aliens]. It was hard to keep a straight face during that.”
David: “One time we had a guy bring in a completely destroyed iPhone in a plastic bag. I mean this thing was 100% unrecognizable. He told us it wasn’t working right, so he took it out behind his house and shot it with a rifle because he was so fed up with the thing. We did not replace it.”
Lucas: "The most full-of-shit customer I ever had was a guy that came in and put a mutated, deformed iPhone in front of me and said ‘My phone isn't working.’ I politely asked what happened. He explained that he had been talking on it, when suddenly the phone got very hot and started to burn his hand, so he threw it on the counter and it erupted into flames. I took the phone into the Genius Room to open it up... it clearly had been subjected to some type of liquid, and I returned to the Genius Bar to tell him. He responds with ‘Well yeah, it caught on fire, so I threw it in the sink and ran water over it.’ Right... I am quite certain that he dropped his phone in water and thought that the best idea was to dry it in the microwave.”
There are loopholes to get your phone fixed for freeLucas: “There were a few instances where you could get away with something because of how you presented it. For example, the iPhone 6 had an issue where the camera had a film that would slowly slide over the lens. When I say slowly, I mean very slowly, but eventually it would start to make a weird distortion on your pics. Say you had a cracked phone. If you take the phone in and say ‘I dropped my phone and it is cracked,' now you need to pay the replacement fee. If you bring a cracked phone in but say ‘I read up and know this film is a defect of the phone and I'm starting to see it slip over.’ Well, now we aren't replacing the phone for the cracked screen, are we? We are replacing it because of a known issue. So I guess it is always worth looking up issues like this ahead of time to see if you can jump through a loop hole.”
Not all employees are created equal[Editor’s Note: Our sources gave us a who’s who of Apple Store employees, so next time you're in there you can understand who you’re dealing with.]
David: “A Genius is top dog in terms of knowledge, tenure, and company perks. They’re the ones fixing your computer at the Genius Bar. You reach this stage after years of employment at the retail store. It’s seen as more prestigious because you’re flown out to Cupertino (or Austin) for a couple weeks of intensive training. A Red Zone Specialist is a sales rep that helps you buy your computer, watch, iPhone, etc. and hangs out in the product section. A Family Room Specialist hangs out around the Genius Bar and handles non-computer repairs. Personally, I think they have the toughest job in the store as they are constantly on the grind to get through appointments (mobile appointments are meant to be no more than 10 minutes) and are on the receiving end of a lot of customer heat. A Leader is basically management, helping out with customer service issues and allocating breaks. Typically there is one in charge of the ‘Red Zone’ (sales), one in charge of the Family Room, and one overseeing the whole store.”
There is a distinct hierarchy among employeesLucas: “The dynamic was odd. Anyone at Apple who was above entry level thought they were hot shit because we all specialized in such specific, refined areas. Creatives knew the software inside and out, while Genii knew the mechanics inside and out. Leaders love Apple so much they never leave and they probably have their ‘5 Year Thank You from Tim Cook (or Steve Jobs)’ plaque nailed to their wall.”
David: “Yeah -- I’d say part-time Red Zone Specialists and part-time Family Room Specialists were at the bottom of the food chain since we still had to work a pretty hefty number of hours but didn’t have a lot of the perks of full-timers. Moving on up to become a Genius was definitely seen as an accomplishment since it involved extensive training and flying out to Apple Corporate to get that certification. The power dynamic can be a little off-putting if you’re new since the higher-ups like to show off their knowledge any chance they get.”
A Genius won’t try to rip you off... but a Specialist mightTony: “Geniuses don’t work on commission so we had no incentive to up sell. In fact, I would try to down sell. Your four-year-old daughter doesn't need a 5k laptop.“
Lucas: “I'd never say that any Genius would try to ‘pull one over’ on clueless customers. Our success was related to a few factors: one was NPS (net promoter score), which is a survey the customer would fill out after their appointment asking how we did. The other major ones were the turnaround rate for the appointments at the Genius Bar, and the turnaround rate for repairs where we actually had to keep their devices. Screwing a customer over in anyway didn't help our statistics as an individual or as a team, so there would be no reason to do so. Specialists, however, are monitored on sales and specific add-ons to their sales. If anyone would be trying to ‘pull a fast one’ on clueless customers it would be the Specialists.”
You can hang out in there all day every day... as long as you don’t smellLucas: “Part of the Apple business model is getting people to return to the store as frequently as possible, so that you could learn more, (and hopefully) buy more. Were there weirdos? Sure. It's retail. Plenty of crazies. People can come into Apple and play on a computer as long as they want and we'd never say a word.”
Tony: “We had a lot of homeless people coming in. We eventually had to tell this one guy that, because he smelled so bad and paying customers were complaining, he couldn't come back in.”
David: “My store always had the exact same guy -- probably late ‘50s I’d say -- come in every single day the entire time I worked there and just hang out to use the computer. He always wore the same outfit. Mostly, he would just look at pictures of female celebrities online -- he had a real thing for Mila Kunis... He’d be looking at things like best-dressed lists and magazine shoots they’d done -- nothing raunchy. But it was still always super uncomfortable since he’d be at it for hours, looking at this stuff. We never really said anything, since he kept to himself and didn’t bother other customers or staff. There’s not really a policy on asking people to leave.”
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