Apple’s Retail Philosophy

Employees reveal calculated culture

Apple has become a brand that can sell itself, yet the technology company pours untold amounts of energy into cultivating its retail experience, and its sales staff in particular. An extensive report by The Wall Street Journal taps into confidential training manuals, a recording of an internal store meeting, and more than 12 interviews with current and former employees to reveal the nuts and bolts of Apple’s retail secrets. What they found was a philosophy where listening comes first and sales is a relative afterthought.

Apple’s employees manage to pull off an air of cool confidence, but make no mistake that the demeanor is calculated. It’s easy to act approachable and calm when there is no pressure to push merchandise. The training manuals and employee interviews conducted by the WSJ reveal a policy of problem solving rather than selling. One might not lose their job if they don't reach a certain sales quota; they just may be retrained or moved to a different division within the store.

The anecdotes from employees sound more like stories from therapists in training rather than someone working in tech retail. The confidential training manual reads: "Listen and limit your responses to simple reassurances that you are doing so. 'Uh-huh,' 'I understand,' etc." One employee recalls being told that he should never correct a customer’s mispronunciation of a product, for fear of patronizing them. The Geniuses working the Genius Bar are taught to say "as it turns out" instead of the more gloomy "unfortunately" when delivering bad news.

Apple’s careful cultivation of its sales force along with the spread of its iconic stores worldwide is a strategy that is clearly working to attract foot traffic. To draw out these successes, the WSJ offered a stark comparison: "More people now visit Apple's 326 stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Walt Disney Co.'s four biggest theme parks last year."

The painstaking details of Apple's consumer experience, from the lighting fixtures to the light-hearted chit chat with support staff, comes down to Apple’s Ron Johnson who will leave the tech giant to become the CEO of JCPenney in November.