Ron Johnson Says People Come to Apple For The Experience

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Apr 12, 2001
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Ron Johnson, the architect behind the Apple Retail Stores, has moved on to be CEO of JC Penney. But, he still remembers the lessons he learned while at Apple.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Johnson reflects on what makes the Apple Store unique:
People come to the Apple Store for the experience -- and they're willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important -- and this is something that can translate to any retailer -- is that the staff isn't focused on selling stuff, it's focused on building relationships and trying to make people's lives better. That may sound hokey, but it's true. The staff is exceptionally well trained, and they're not on commission, so it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you're happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it's a product Apple doesn't carry. Compare that with other retailers where the emphasis is on cross-selling and upselling and, basically, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don't want or need it. That doesn't enrich their lives, and it doesn't deepen the retailer's relationship with them. It just makes their wallets lighter.
Perhaps as a hint toward the direction he intends to take JC Penney, Johnson ends by noting that "the retailers that win the future are the ones that start from scratch and figure out how to create fundamentally new types of value for customers."

Article Link: Ron Johnson Says People Come to Apple For The Experience
 

sternfalter

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Jul 31, 2008
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Love not being hounded
 

Vol7ron

macrumors 6502
Jun 11, 2009
281
189
Derry, NH
that's true...I remember working back at CompUSSR that the mentality there was to cross sell and up sell. If a person only wanted a laptop or desktop and nothing else, no printer, software, cables, service plan, etc. to get them to leave the store - They didn't want their business. They only wanted the multi orders with service plans that brought them in lots of cash. I hated doing that to customers. After asking them if they wanted a service plan 3 times and having the Tech manager try to convince them of the same thing, most customers would just leave, frustrated and go across to Best Buy. Guess we know why CompUSA went out of business....

At Apple, it is great. They don't pressure you into anything. If you want something, they give it to you. If you don't want something, they don't heckle you 18 times before they get the picture....
 

room237

macrumors 6502
Oct 20, 2008
322
1
Queens, NYC
Now, it's up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare
minimum. Well, like Brian, for example, has 37 pieces of flair. And a
terrific smile.
 

JonyHolt

macrumors newbie
Jul 13, 2011
21
16
Fresno, CA
I disagree. While the experience is definitely unique. I dread going into the store. It seems like the employee's are beginning to hate their job. But this may just be Apple retail management...
 

BC2009

macrumors 68000
Jul 1, 2009
1,949
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Just read the chapter about Ron Johnson in the Steve Jobs biography. It turns out that after months of planning the Apple Store within a warehouse working model of it, Ron woke one morning with an idea of centering the displays around aspects of what people might want to do with their products rather than around the products themselves. He told Jobs who blew up at first because he realized the implications but probably because he realized that Johnson was right. As he drove to the model store with several execs he told them all to not say a word while he thought. When he got there he said that Ron wanted them to rethink how they were doing the store and it would delay them by months, but that Ron was right and it needed to be done.

Pretty amazing. Jobs was definitely a hard guy to work for, but if you stood up to him and you were right you earned his respect.
 

cubedweller

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not entirely true.. Apple up sells as well.. they have always tried to get me to purchase AppleCare with every product I've purchased.. same was true with the old MobileMe..
 

Truffy

macrumors 6502a
Hey, well my last experience of shopping in an Apple store (Pentagon City, Washington DC) was that the nice young man asked em what I wanted. I told him: two iPod Shuffles. And he told me to wait over by the iPod Shuffle display.

After waiting for ten minutes, I got totally hacked off, found the next moving Apple employee and got them to find me what I wanted from stock.

Colour me underwhelmed.
 

Fazzy

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Oct 12, 2011
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Apple retail stores work because everything fits in so well. The workshops, genius bar and the knowledge the employees have of the products they sell would not work if it were not for the whole Eco system.
 

rdowns

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Jul 11, 2003
27,397
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I recall threads here on the pressure for Apple sales reps to "attach" AppleCare, One-to-One and MobileMe (formerly) so I call Bravo Sierra.
 

Surreal

macrumors 6502a
Jun 18, 2004
515
30
I recall threads here on the pressure for Apple sales reps to "attach" AppleCare, One-to-One and MobileMe (formerly) so I call Bravo Sierra.
Right. The pressure is to attach particular services. That said, the emphasis tends toward praising the specialists who have high attach rates. If you have a low but reasonable attach rate you get left alone much of the time.
 

sternfalter

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rdowns said:
I recall threads here on the pressure for Apple sales reps to "attach" AppleCare, One-to-One and MobileMe (formerly) so I call Bravo Sierra.
Even if that is so, that is just "sales". Consumers can always say "no".
 

jmgregory1

macrumors 68000
Frankly, one thing Apple hasn't figured out yet is how to make the experience of shopping seamless between online and bricks and mortar.

When you shop online, you are presented with up-sells and add-ons. I don't see that being a problem and if the Apple store employees knew better what they were doing and talking about, they could make similar suggestions that could benefit the consumer as much as their own store numbers.

Applecare is one thing they do try to upsell and they're generally not open about the fact that you can wait 364 days before buying it (with the exception of Applecare+ with iPhones now).
 

Shawn Chittle

macrumors newbie
Nov 21, 2011
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0
Met Mr. Johnson once!

I met Mr. Johnson in person in 2009 and found him to be a really great guy. Attentive listener and all smiles. Frankly I was a tad nervous - he was a senior Apple executive. As the lead website designer and product owner, I was asked to give him a demo of our B&H iPhone app which I was just finishing designing. It was a rare treat to be able to interact with Mr. Johnson/Apple on a level I've never before or since.

B&H sells an awful lot of Apple products. The B&H in-store experience, fine tuned over 35 years, is something I've always wondered if Apple might have taken a lot of inspiration from?

1. Don't sell; inform, educate, entertain
2. No commission sales staff
3. Offer a wide variety of stuff
4. Train staff very well
5. Create a cool store

All these things are what make an Apple store great. So kudos to Mr. Johnson on his appt to CEO of J.C. Penney. He's a class act.
 

ChrisTX

macrumors 68030
Dec 30, 2009
2,682
52
Texas
I remember when I went in to the Apple store to buy the original MacBook Pro, and my first Mac. The employee working actually tried to talk me into a cheaper MacBook. Never had a bad buying experience with Apple.
 

bentmywookie

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Nov 6, 2002
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not entirely true.. Apple up sells as well.. they have always tried to get me to purchase AppleCare with every product I've purchased.. same was true with the old MobileMe..
Exactly - I had some friends that worked at Apple stores (and this information has also been made public) that said that they were instructed to try and attach Applecare or MobileMe to purchases (and would be "spoken to" if their attachment numbers weren't high enough). So there is definitely some nonsense to what he's saying.
 

acslater017

macrumors 6502a
Jul 25, 2006
710
98
San Francisco Bay Area
I've done a lot of research on it lately, and what Johnson says is really true. Sure, they'll try to sell you AppleCare or whatever. But they're pretty good about not pushing it too hard. If someone is being pushy, they probably need to go back to training or get a talk from their boss. If nothing else, Apple takes their image extremely seriously.

I believe employees receive storewide bonuses if the store does well - but there's no commission. So, they're motivated to sell; there's just not undue pressure to make X number of sales. Therefore if the customer says, "I'll need to think about it", the employee isn't hurt at all by it. It's more important to be friendly and build that trust.

I think the same philosophy applies to the products themselves. You'll note that there is not a price tag on each unit, and Specialists are usually not hovering over you. You are not being bombarded with, "Are you gonna buy it?"From what I can tell, they're trained not to bother you and simply let you bond with the product. Apple's products are strong enough to stand on their own without a "pitch" per se. I've often played with stuff for 30 minutes without anyone bothering me.
 
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room237

macrumors 6502
Oct 20, 2008
322
1
Queens, NYC
I met Mr. Johnson in person in 2009 and found him to be a really great guy. Attentive listener and all smiles. Frankly I was a tad nervous - he was a senior Apple executive. As the lead website designer and product owner, I was asked to give him a demo of our B&H iPhone app which I was just finishing designing. It was a rare treat to be able to interact with Mr. Johnson/Apple on a level I've never before or since.

B&H sells an awful lot of Apple products. The B&H in-store experience, fine tuned over 35 years, is something I've always wondered if Apple might have taken a lot of inspiration from?

1. Don't sell; inform, educate, entertain
2. No commission sales staff
3. Offer a wide variety of stuff
4. Train staff very well
5. Create a cool store

All these things are what make an Apple store great. So kudos to Mr. Johnson on his appt to CEO of J.C. Penney. He's a class act.
I agree with all except one.. B&H is not a "cool" store. Don't get me wrong, it's great. I'm a pro photographer and I buy most of my stuff from that store. But shopping there is kind of like going through customs at JFK.
 

RLesko

macrumors member
Jul 21, 2011
93
1
Gonna go ahead and disagree here...I hate going into the Apple store.

The employees are not "educated" at all, I dare say they don't even know what "RAM" stands for. Apple is a group of "diverse" individuals (because we all know diverse = multiple ethnicities) dressed to look trendy and pretty much programmed to spout off predetermined lines to the customers.

I've been in plenty of stores and they are so overstaffed that its like walking into a Vultures nest each visit. Nothing pisses me off more than to tell one of the associates I don't need help selecting an iPhone case only to have another one come on over and try to evaluate my needs again. And no, I don't want to pay $100 a year for your stupid one-to-one program.
 

Digitalclips

macrumors 65816
Mar 16, 2006
1,466
31
Sarasota, Florida
I will be very interested to see how he can apply that same and wonderful concept to the products JCP sell ... I don't see how a set of sheets or a set of pans can be sold that way with Sears next door ready not to help but sell low. A Mac or an iPad can change someone's life experiences ... but matching tea service? Maybe I'm just not into drapes and cushions deeply enough! ;)
 

vrDrew

macrumors 65816
Jan 31, 2010
1,331
12,847
Midlife, Midwest
Apple retails stores have, by a quite comfortable margin, the highest per-square-foot sales of any company in the retail industry.

They must be doing something right, and that includes probably more than just having good products.

For everyone complaining about getting cross-sold AppleCare, there's somebody else raving about how he or she just picked up a second (or third) MacBook "with no questions asked" I'm personally not a big fan of any "extended warranty" program - but they do serve to give people who need it some sort of peace of mind. Apple would be remiss if they didn't have store employees at least mention it. There is a definite line between explaining a products' features, and badgering a customer - and I think in most cases Apple Store employees stay on the right side of it.

I rarely pass an Apple Store without at least ducking inside, even if I've no intention of buying anything. I'm not ashamed to say that I frequently use the in-store wi-fi to send e-mails, or use one of the display units to browse the web. I'm sure *some* people take advantage of Apple's policy - but they are far outweighed by the positive relationship it builds with people.

One thing I've noticed about Apple Stores: There always seems to be a positive energy going on. On a Tuesday morning, in the middle of a recession, the store is filled with people tapping away at iMacs and iPads, grooving to the iPods and snapping pictures with the iPhones.

I can't imagine Microsoft, let alone Google or Samsung, being able to pull off that kind of trick. Even if they hired Jonny Ive to design their products, they'd still find a way to dork up the retail experience.
 
Oh, the pain, the pain...

Gonna go ahead and disagree here...I hate going into the Apple store.

The employees are not "educated" at all, I dare say they don't even know what "RAM" stands for. Apple is a group of "diverse" individuals (because we all know diverse = multiple ethnicities) dressed to look trendy and pretty much programmed to spout off predetermined lines to the customers.

I've been in plenty of stores and they are so overstaffed that its like walking into a Vultures nest each visit. Nothing pisses me off more than to tell one of the associates I don't need help selecting an iPhone case only to have another one come on over and try to evaluate my needs again. And no, I don't want to pay $100 a year for your stupid one-to-one program.
It's so depressing to see someone in such suffering, especially when the suffering is caused by the same torture that most of us perceive as the pinnacle of retail shopping experiences. I think it's best you go and have a cup of tea, a couple of cookies and a little lie down, you'll soon feel better, I'm sure. Oh, and best you stay away from the yukky Apple stores in future, clearly they are not good enough for your lofty standards.
 

marksman

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Jun 4, 2007
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I have extensive retail experience and they are spot on with their approach. I have always had an issue with hardcore sales especially in retail. Commissioned sales is not the customers friend. The worst part is these organizations promote their best sales people to be managers and being good at sales and managing people are two different skill sets. They hamstring themselves.

What is worse is someone like RadioShack who is just a sales organization. Commissioned sales drives every expect of their business. They even have internal sales people who get bonuses on getting stores to "order" certain products. Their managers are only top sales people. Caring about the customer is irrelevant

Apples massive retail success will impact the way a lot of businesses interact with customers, in a good way
 
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