by Jim Lynch

Are Apple’s retail employees being treated fairly?

Apr 20, 201513 mins
CareersOperating SystemsRetail Industry

Do Apple's retail employees get the same treatment as its corporate employees? Some retail workers are frustrated and upset about their experiences in Apple's stores

Are retail employees second class members of the Apple family? Much is made of Apple’s team spirit and appreciation of its employees. But does that really happen when the Apple employee works in a retail store rather than in a corporate role in Cupertino?

Apple has long been known as a company with a reputation for valuing the contributions of its employees. But is there a difference in how a retail employee at a typical store is appreciated by Apple vs. one that works in a corporate or engineering role in Cupertino?

I ran into a very interesting thread on the Apple subreddit that asked this very question, and some of the answers were quite surprising. Here’s a snippet of those answers from Apple redditors that either work in retail for the company right now, or have worked retail in the past. I’ll share my own thoughts after the redditor comments.

1541drive asked about retail employees vs. corporate at Apple:

Apple Store employees of Reddit: Do you consider yourself a part of Apple or a second class retail worker? We seem to get a lot of either the Team Apple or disgruntled employee stories here and IRL. Which camp are you?

More at Reddit

Current and former Apple retail employees responded:

Fruitstand_helper: “Technician at flagship here. It’s a combination of both, but more of being part of the company.

The problem is that there is a severe disconnect in retail management and the spirit of the company; the people they bring in to manage stores and markets tend to come from outside retail experience, so they tend to manage in the way that they used to, resulting in the retail bullshit that everybody talks about.

Upper management (re: corporate) is very approachable. And I’ve seen significant change happen from a red zone specialist emailing somebody up on top. Usually it’s less dramatic: if I have a problem or an unknown, I can email the appropriate person in the company, retail or corporate, and usually get the necessary information or help.

Further, at least in my market, there are plenty of people who make the jump from retail or corporate, so I feel as if, while, yes we’re second-class, we are part of the same global family and things are getting progressively tighter. There’s a lot of damage to be undone from the Browett era.”

Dinoplu: “That’s true about where they hire managers. Where I came from it was Kohls, Target managers who thought they were above people.”

JohnBrowett: “Both.

I feel like we are a tangible extension of the company but really don’t have a lot of influence on the company. Depending on your store, your leaders may give you more power to influence the customer experience in the way you want. Having good, supportive managers is the key to making it through apple retail.”

Dsinglez: “I’m surprised no one commented on your name. John Browett was the worst thing for Apple Retail. His departure is regularly celebrated by customers and employees alike.”

KittehKittehKat: “I worked for Apple retail for a few years and felt like we were the bastard children.”

Poopzz: “Well, here it goes. I felt both.

On the one hand, the benefits were great, and I made real friends with my coworkers. We still hang out frequently even though most of us have left. The culture was fun, though I had to refrain from drinking the Apple Juice at times. Our managers treated us well and tried to make it seemed like they cared even with little gestures such as buying us all lunch on launch days, doing BBQs in the back during the summer, bringing in cupcakes for everyone, etc.

But on the other hand, I felt like there were a lot of invisible hands at work in corporate that were making decisions about how we do things in the retail stores without really asking the folks who were in the trenches about their opinions. Some things really made the experience for customers worse than how things were before. Also, I felt that the chances of moving from retail to corporate were nonexistent. I never heard of any of my 300+ employees making that move, even as some of them were shipped off to Cupertino for career experiences that were a few weeks long.

If Apple worked on building a bridge between retail and corporate, instead of taking it apart, things would improve. I would have loved to see training programs that helped retail workers go into corporate. I would also suggest that Apple seriously reconsider how they hire outside managers, who I feel like contribute to the whole “local store team falling apart” feeling.

Ultimately, I left because in-store management started to fall apart. and corporate was trying to change things that had worked worked well for us in the past. They brought in managers who were not ready to come face-to-face with the reality of working in an Apple store, because it is so much more than retail. Then, many of my “veteran” coworkers started to leave, and I ended up following behind. While I do believe Apple has a lower turnover rate than other retail stores, its very hard to meet anyone there who has been there over 5 years. I only knew 2-3 people who did it.

It is a job that leaves you physically and psychologically exhausted at the end of the day. But, compared to where I work now, I really do miss the upbeat nature of the work. I liked seeing my coworkers. The work, while challenging, was fun. And I feel like I won’t be able to get that in any cubicle job.”

Berto_g: “Expert at a flagship store here, and I have to say that the experience of working at apple retail between a mall store and a flagship store is HUGE!

At a mall store you are seen as the king of retail, but that’s all. You are still working retail, your managers are usually store managers from other stores in the same mall, senior managers were district managers and so on. In a flagship store it’s a bit different, we get visits from corporate all the time encouraging seasoned specialist and experts to do career experiences, I’ve seen several experts become managers and senior managers, creatives get corporate positions and those who chose to leave the company get even better positions.

The customers come in all shapes, and those who are disgruntled remember AAA and assume positive intent, I have turned screaming customers into promoters by sticking to APPLE steps of service. You are given the tools to succeed, use them.

I’ve seen many employees come and go and go and others that have been in the same roles for years, you make your own journey at Apple. I’ve been with apple for 3 years, I am an ISGT now and I had the chance to go to Atlanta for Apple watch training, Cupertino for customer journey training and reshape the PSU experience. Apple has shown me that my voice matters and I can’t wait to see the future at Apple holds for my career.”

ThoroughlyUnamused: “…all Apple employees have access to the same benefits and corporate discounts.”

Itsjackressel: “We don’t get shares for free but a discount through ESPP.”

Seethruapple: “Wall of text beware.

The stores and their leadership are mostly amazing. The company and how they look out for their employees is terrible and most days I feel used and under appreciated. I started off as a Red Zone Specialist at a flagship store and am now a Family Room Specialist (FRS for short but for the layman, a Technician). Being a Red Zoner was great. The only challenge there was to obtain a certain percentage of AppleCare and OnetoOne, which honestly wasn’t even that hard, those two services are actually extremely beneficial to customers and a lot are underinformed about the headaches they could save with your experience with your computer.

After leadership found out that I was pretty good at diffusing customer escalations they decided to offer me a job as an FRS. Which I gladly accepted because I had enough of sales because that is what I had done for the prior 5 years. The training for FRS was easy and well executed and they really wanted to make sure you are well prepared for facing onslaughts of disgruntled or impatient customers.

With FRS the only expectation is to provide excellent customer service and try and get good NPS responses (Survey apple sends to you after your appointment specifically in regards to how the technician treated you, NOT the companies warranty policies). We really do try to bend backwards for our customers that treat us with respect and dignity. It’s really frustrating to see someone get so worked up about a policy that we have to keep consistent so it is fair for everyone and then get a bad NPS response stating how bad of a tech we are.

It’s incredible how evil people can be if they don’t get their way or what they want. Which brings me to the bad. Apple is a very psychology taxing job. Most days I have anxiety attacks about how busy and understaffed we are. After the third or fourth person getting upset with you because you politely tell them they’ll be waiting 2-3 hrs to see a tech because we are backed up, you get a little depressed. Most days I go to work, I have to pretend like I’m happy for my customers, but I am really hurting inside because of how hard we all work and get little in return other then our paychecks and benefits. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but being an IT specialist that has 6, 10 minute appointments each hour and gets paid retail pay is in my opinion not a fair situation, but it makes our stockholders happy. Apple has the resources to change every single one of their retail employees lives, but they know we are all disposable and 20,000 other kids are lined up to fill our spots if we say anything. If they make it so hard to get into their stores why don’t they make it harder for people to want to leave? Other companies take really great employees from Apple everyday, and the only thing it takes, is offering a little extra pay.

Why does Apple need billions upon billions of dollars sitting in the bank? Sure they donate a little to a lot of good causes, but how about the employees that slave away each day that made the company what it is today. People talk about Apples service and how amazing it is, and the reality is, the service is provided by the individuals. You can’t train a person to have good morales and empathy for other people.”

More at Reddit

Whew! The last message is quite poignant in representing one person’s experience as a retail worker for Apple. Be sure to read the rest of the thread as well for quite a bit more from current and former Apple retail employees.

A cultural disconnect in Apple store managers?

Based on what I read in the thread, it seems to me that there’s a little bit of a disconnect between the corporate culture in Cupertino and at some flagship Apple stores, and the culture found in your run-of-the-mill Apple store that’s being run by a former manager of Target or some other store. The problem seems to lie with managers being brought in from other retail operations that have not internalized Apple’s culture, and that lack of a connection to the culture seems to affect how they manage Apple’s retail employees.

This is unfortunate, and it makes me wonder if the folks in Cupertino are actually aware of this problem. It must be very frustrating for a retail employee to deal with, on top of having to deal with the needs of his or her customers. I worked retail in college so I can relate to how draining it can be to try to provide the highest quality customer service possible in that environment. And no, I didn’t work for Apple. There were no Apple stores back then.

It seems that this might be a problem for the new head of Apple retail, Angela Ahrendts, to consider as she begins making changes. I wonder how many store managers are hired from within Apple’s stores vs. being brought in from the outside? That might be something worth considering for Ms. Arhrendts since more hiring from within could help reinforce Apple’s corporate culture within its own stores, and thus improve the morale of retail employees as a whole.

Apple retail employees get the same benefits and discounts

In terms of the larger question I asked in the title of this post, it’s worth noting that Apple retail employees do seem to have access to the same benefits and corporate discounts (stock purchases, Apple hardware, etc). So I don’t see any deliberate slight on the part of Apple’s corporate management to retail employees. But the issue of management hiring – and the effects of managers coming in from other corporate cultures – seems to have slipped through the cracks at Apple headquarters.

My own experiences with Apple retail employees

My own experiences at various Apple stores have actually been quite good, but I generally know what I want before I step in the door. So I tend to grab what I want and then head out quickly, without spending too much time in the store. But Apple employees at the stores have always been quite courteous and helpful to me while I was there and I appreciated that very much.

Fortunately, I have had relatively few problems with the Apple hardware I’ve bought over the years. I don’t know if that’s luck or just a general statement about the quality of Apple’s devices. Years ago I did have a 24-inch iMac that had to be fixed three or four times, and on the last time the support person on the phone told me to bring it to an Apple store. So I did and I was quite pleased to be handed a brand-new 27-inch iMac as a replacement by an Apple store employee. Yes, I ended up with a new 27-inch since they had stopped making the 24-inch ones. So I certainly couldn’t complain after that incident.

Still, as someone who worked retail at one time, my heart goes out to the Apple store employees who feel that they aren’t quite on the same level as corporate employees. I certainly hope that Angela Arhrendts can turn that situation around and make some of the unhappier retail employees feel more like they are part of the Apple mothership.

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