About that Rumored Genius Bar Replacement

February 25th, 2015

I’m of two minds about Genius Bar. The idea is surely compelling enough to make it one of the most important features of an Apple Store. Assuming the Genius staff knows what they’re doing, which is usually the case, it gives you a way to get free hands-on help direct from Apple. You don’t have to depend on someone at a consumer electronics store who might be a dunce (all right, they’re not all dunces), and lead you astray. The Genius is trained by Apple and should be able to readily solve most routine and not-so-routine problems.

Of course, when I call upon Apple to help, it’s anything but routine. That’s my lot in life I suppose. I also hate waiting, and even when I make an appointment, I still have to hang around for a while, and I hate sitting around and waiting. It reminds me of a doctor’s office, where the patient is seldom greeted even by the physician’s assistant at the appointed time.

Well, there are reports the Genius Bar, as it is, is due to be replaced with a system known as Concierge that offers what may be a more sensible approach. You’ll still be able to book your appointments online, but if you rush into a store without the reservation to get help with a hardware or technical support issue, how long you wait will be based on the nature of the problem.

So if your MacBook’s screen is dead, or your iPhone’s battery is toast, you’ll get priority over someone who merely has a relatively simple support question. Either way, you’ll receive reminder texts on your smartphone — and I presume they won’t force you to use an iPhone — indicating the original appointment, a reminder to get back to the store, and a final message indicating that a tech is ready to see you.

According to published reports, retail head Angela Ahrendts, who hails from the fashion industry, is working with Jony Ive on the redesign. Of course, we’ll have to see if it really launches on the week of March 9th as claimed.

Regardless, the idea does seem to have merit, though I’d think that anyone with a serious problem would want to actually schedule a session rather than rely on an uncertain wait time that would depend on how many people without reservations actually show up.

Such a scheme would be similar to the practice at some restaurants, such as the Cheesecake Factory chain, where they supply customers with pagers to alert them when their tables are ready. So would Apple give you a pager if you didn’t have a smartphone — or your broken iPhone was the object meant for repair?

I also wonder whether the former members of Genius Bar would appreciate being part of a Concierge, especially since the latter implies a hotel’s information booth. I’m not belittling hotel employees mind you. But if the new scheme addresses the problems of the old, and results in fewer people milling around the store hoping to get served, that’s a better deal.

The other possible change is displaying the Apple Watch in a carpeted area, which would give that section of the store a touch of class. Laying carpets throughout the entire store would seem to make less sense, since it would entail more frequent cleaning and probably less durability than tiles. Interior decorators are free to chime in.

Certainly anything that makes your Apple Store visit more enjoyable, less frustrating, has to be helpful. Happier customers mean more sales, and has the chain hit a wall in terms of potential sales growth? But adding a jewelry counter displaying a product with a potential five figure price tag will surely boost total sales at all outlets regardless.

When I consider the future improvements — or at least changes — in the Apple Store setup, I wonder how Apple would handle big box and even auto sales. If an Apple connected TV set is coming, it would seem these existing retail stores are too small to manage, except for maybe sticking one or two units at a specific place in the store, but what do they replace? Since the size of an Apple Store is usually fixed, unless there’s a way to take over an adjoining retail location, how many items can they display before it gets too cluttered? Or maybe that’s already happened.

And if Apple goes into the car business, just what would they do to overhaul the usually miserable auto buying experience? I cannot think of any vehicle purchase that didn’t leave me drained.

Consider a typical example: The other day I helped a relative trade down at a used car dealer. She had managed to keep up with the payments of her current car, but just barely, and it was too large and much too expensive to maintain. So I took her to the dealer, a store that once employed her late husband, in search of something smaller, cheaper and with a less daunting infotainment system.

I predicted she’d be there for at least two and a half hours, and that was being conservative. She didn’t believe it, because her husband handled all previous vehicle purchases usually without her presence. Indeed, it only took 15 minutes for her to accept a recommendation that the salesperson and I made of a suitable vehicle. That was the easy part.

She made some requests about financing, and she even had a tentative approval from the bank who handled the previous car loan. So it should have taken no more than a few minutes to calculate the new price and prepare the sales and loan contracts. Negotiations, after all, were brief.

But it took an hour before she got the final pricing, and another 45 minutes for the finance person to greet her to complete the transaction. From here, she had to sign multiple documents, sometimes several times, before she was done. Each document had to be printed separately in an ancient impact printer, shades of the 1980s. It began to remind me of a dry cleaner with a similar retro layout.

After two hours and 15 minutes, she left the dealership. We were both exhausted. Remember, this was a fast deal, with a predictable pricing. It wasn’t just someone walking into the dealership and having to endure a full-on sales pitch.

If Apple can overhaul such typically torturous experiences, and come up with an affordable vehicle that provides an appropriately elegant motoring experience with high style, they might get my business. For now, though, I’ll be sure to visit a nearby Apple Store after Concierge debuts, if it debuts, at least when something needs to be fixed.

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