Long wait times, overcrowding, and awkward customer-service interactions are turning shoppers against Apple.
Apple Stores have become an almost mythical part of the tech giant's brand. Now, they could be killing it.
Founder Steve Jobs wanted Apple's stores to be different from those of traditional retailers, setting Apple apart from competitors with stylish, minimalist aesthetics. Apple Stores have specific, strict rules — from how employees interact to the exact angle of laptops — designed to create the perfect experience that transcends shopping.
For years, the investment has paid off.
In 2017, eMarketer and CoStar data showed that Apple Stores make a whopping $5,546 per square foot. That puts the retailer in the No. 1 spot across the retail industry — though that figure has declined since 2012, when the research firms reported that Apple averaged $6,050 per square foot in sales.
But, if you've visited an Apple Store recently, you may have found that you weren't visiting a magical tech utopia after all. Many customers are now comparing their Apple Store experiences to those they've had at a different place: the dreaded DMV.
A recent trip to a New York City Apple Store by Business Insider's Avery Hartmans revealed a chaotic, hellish mess.
The store was packed with people. It was unclear which employees were available to help and which were otherwise occupied. Without a reservation, it was nearly impossible to get help at the Genius Bar. To make matters worse, it could be days before there was an open reservation.
This isn't an isolated issue. Social media has been flooded with complaints about Apple Stores in recent months.
"Does anyone really enjoy going to the apple store anymore?" reads a recent one-star review of a Boston Apple Store.
Customers aren't the only ones who have noticed the problem.
Employees told Business Insider's Kif Leswing in November 2017 that overcrowding was a huge concern and that Apple's existing customer service model simply wasn't functional anymore.
"We haven't been able to keep up with traffic since I started 8 years ago," a senior Genius at a small store in the Midwest told Business Insider. "I wouldn't even walk in the store because of how crowded it gets. During Christmas [season] you can hardly move."
Customers' top complaints are focused on crowds and wait times, which can last for hours. Simply put, too many people need assistance at Apple Stores — and employees don't have the time to help everyone immediately.
"Came to the store today at 2:40pm to get a pair of Powerbeats looked at... put my name on the list," one Yelp review of a San Francisco Apple Store reads.
The review continues: "Got a text at 3:30 saying they were almost ready for me. It's now almost 5pm and I finally went up to the manager or at least the guy taking names and told them I had gotten a text well over an hour ago. He told me 'sorry,' I had 'slipped through the cracks' and they lost my reservation."
Irritated customers tired of waiting for simple assistance tend to be less than impressed by Apple Stores' unique design. Some say they feel Apple has prioritized artistry over customers' needs.
"It's places like this that make me appreciate the DMV," reads a review of a Los Angeles Apple Store, written by a customer who complained Apple focused on style over substance.
"I know Apple envisions having a store where customers can flow in and out — or congregate, like in a 'town square' — but sometimes it's just easier to stand in a line," Hartmans wrote after a trip to an Apple Store in January."At least from a customer's standpoint, you know where you need to be."
For a brand that treasures image and aesthetics, this could be a deadly problem.
In 2016, Apple retail boss Angela Ahrendts told Business Insider that the company needed "to open incredible places that almost behave like a town square, like a gathering place."
"We want you to meet people at Apple," Ahrendts said. "See what's happening."
For some, Apple Stores have become a site of frustration, not community mingling. However, the company is renovating dozens of stores across the US in an effort to better achieve its "town square" goals.
These revamped stores are larger, which could help with concerns of overcrowding. They also feature a new approach to the Genius Bar with the "Genius Grove," which allows a section of the store to be focused on repairs and assistance without involving lines.