retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a piece the other day that looked at some criticisms of how the Apple Store is doing business these days, suggesting misplaced priorities at the tech giant that may be affecting the division that is the face of the company.

MNB user Rich Heiland wrote:

I had the same experience at the Apple Store in the Woodlands (TX) mall. I cracked a corner of the screen on my iPad so drove 30 miles or so south to the store. I was told I needed an appointment with a genius. It was 11 a.m. or so and they said the next appointment was at 2:50 p.m. I explained I drove down from Huntsville and didn't want to burn three hours at the mall. All I wanted to know was the cost of the screen replacement so I could make a decision on doing that, or replacing it. Nope. Have to see a genius. Finally I found someone who told me it would be $249. I decided to fix so said "can I just leave it with you and you call me when it's done?" Nope, needed an appointment with a genius. Again, said I couldn't wait three hours "well you can make one for another time and come back down."

I left. My thought? I need a tablet, but do I need an iPad tablet? When it comes time to replace it I now am open to considering other products, where before I was not.....

Think this ties to the Apple shakeups of a week or so ago?

Another MNB user wrote:

I would echo that Apple has a larger issue with their retail stores and customer experience post product purchase than some would like to believe.

I recently visited the Apple store, after making the required appointment, seeking help for two iPods that my daughter has purchased with her own savings.

The store was less than compelling and did not have many of the goodies I would have been willing to pay for the iPads we have in the family.

The associate helping us essentially destroyed the iPods by wiping the content with the only reply that we could recycle them for a discount on a newer model or visit another retailer that specialized in fixing what Apple could or would not fix.

The end result, we went home and were able to restore the content ourselves enough to salvage what we needed. My daughter is now unwilling to own another Apple device. So much so that she would like to look at any smart phone but will not consider the iPhone as an option.

Turning off future generations of shoppers did not even enter into the context of the staff at the store and frankly they politely showed apathy for a young lady with a device mere months out of warranty that had a known issue on the product.
Sad, truly sad management of business by people on the front lines.
Oh, forgot to mention that I did have the option of paying $20 for a person on the phone to tell me to go to the Apple store for this delightful treatment.

And, from another MNB user:

Have to add my voice ... on this one - and I've bought about 20 Mac products over the years (not counting iPods) starting in 1985.  Needed to repair an old Mac laptop; was given a too-high estimate for repair but was eagerly sold a new Air model (which is a great machine).  Then came time to transfer my data from old to new.  I was immediately sold the $100 service package that I was told was required to do this, and then given wrong DIY advice on the solution (after waiting 45 minutes, the Genius took about 1 minute with me; recommended a solution requiring a port that my old computer didn't have - which I only realized after I got home).  A call to Apple (and another wait) brought the suggestion that I just get a converter - - which after searching on the internet discovered doesn't exist.  I eventually gave up, and went to an independent Apple service consultant, who was happy to help me out.  This is in a highly populated suburb of Chicago.

So…I still love Apple products but the bloom is starting to come off the rose for me.

MNB user Lee Smith wrote:

Very simply, I have the exact same problem at the store in Boca Raton, FL. It is a nightmare and you can plan on spending an entire afternoon for any problem, regardless of how simple the solution. The last time I was there, I was given an appointment two hours later and I was told I had to stay in the store in case they called me early. I explained I was going to lunch and they said they would e-mail me. We were finished, I got the e-mail and walked the 50 feet into the store and they told me since I wasn't there I'd have to schedule another appointment.
However, another MNB user is a little skeptical of all the criticism:

Yes, Kevin. Apple definitely needs advice from whining malcontents who have evidently never tried to get Microsoft to resolve a problem.

I think I just laughed up a lung...

I get your point.

Not having owned a non-Apple product, other than a Kindle, for about two decades, it is hard for me to judge how other companies handle customer service, though it is certainly my sense that whatever its shortcomings, Apple leads the pack.

But it would be an enormous mistake for Apple to get complacent about its achievements in this area.

A reputation is what you earned yesterday. Today, you have to earn it all over again.

Last week, I wrote about a business lesson to be learned from the elections. i wrote, in part:

I heard a Republican strategist yesterday make the following comment: "To be frank, we are a 'Mad Men' party in a 'Modern Family' world."

And another GOP strategist said that the Republican Party was going to continue to have problems in national elections as long as it is perceived as being anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant ... and at the very least, Republicans have to craft an approach to issues that seem rooted in the cultural and demographic realities of the 21st century. (A number of people seem to think that the clock is ticking ... that the GOP has to change at least as fast as the electorate does.) And I thought those were profound statements ... with a lot of business relevance. Think about it. You can't run a successful business if it seems like you are addressing modern problems with an out-of-touch mindset. Nostalgia has its place, but not if you are trying to run a relevant retailing business. There will be a lot of sturm und drang in the Republican party as it tries to figure out what went wrong in a year when it thought most things would go its way. Some will say that the party needs to get more conservative, while others will suggest that changing demographics means that a new approach to conservatism needs to be developed. I have no comment on the election other than to restate the obvious - that the Republican part seems to have a branding problem. And by the way ... the Democratic Party has its own problem, because it seems to be perceived as anti white male. I would argue while demographics are changing and white men are not as important as they used to be, Democrats cannot afford to just write them off. Both parties have plenty of work to do.

MNB user Lisa Bosshard responded:

Truer words have never been spoken.  Regardless of which side of the political line people fall on, if they don't start working together, our country will get no where and the backsliding will gain momentum.

From another reader:

I can’t agree more that you can pull real business lessons from this election.  My favorite quote from an article in the Washington Post this morning was this one from Mac Stipanovich, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Florida:

“There are things we need to think about, things we need to talk about, and probably some things we need to change,” Stipanovich said. “We probably need to be less reflexively and dogmatically conservative and need to take a new look at the people we’d like to represent — what their needs are, what their aspirations are.”
This is classic isn’t it?  Who are your customers and what do they need from you?  Where I work, we talk about this  a lot!  I am not one of those people who equates running a government with running a business, but I do think we can learn from each other.

Another MNB user chimed in:

The statement that gave me hope came from a Republican house leader (I think), he was asking for both sides to come together and work for the good of Americans. Maybe this election, instead of dividing the nation, will wake both sides up to the fact that for most Americans it isn’t about party it is about survival. Both sides lose when nothing changes. Kevin, I believe you are right. Both sides have branding issues. The election was close. Neither side can claim total victory.

MNB user Ray England wrote:

Successful retailers know who they are and stick to it. They live their brand promise in everything they do resulting in a solid brand equity and message that rings true with their customers in every visit. Think about these three successful, but very different supermarket retailers: Publix, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart. When these retailers go after new customers, or work to evolve with the marketplace, they do so in a way that stays true to their core brand promise and values. They may offer new items, integrate new programs, or even evolve their décor or logos, but they stay who they are. In my opinion, retailers of any type that try to be everything to everyone, constantly changing course looking for ways to capture new customers through the latest gimmick are in a continual state of flux because their foundation is constantly shifting.

I believe the quote above crystalizes the issue Republicans face fairly well. Political parties don’t have customers, they have constituents, but they are the same really. Like retail customers, constituents respond to a consistent message, one they can identify with. I don’t think that anyone could argue the fact that Democrats have a consistent message, they are consistently liberal and it’s not as if anyone questions who their target audience is regarding ethnicity, gender, age, or in what socioeconomic class they reside. Democrats know their message and articulate it well. Republicans on the other hand allow themselves to be branded by Democrats and find themselves trying to be like the retailer that is always trying to figure out how to increase their customer base by always trying to speak to the next profitable group of consumers. We’ve all heard it the last few days. Republicans lost women, Latinos, blacks, young people, and can’t get the Jewish vote or gay vote. Okay, how do Republicans focus in on any one of these diverse groups without alienating another? Republicans have to figure out who they are and be consistent with their message to everyone all the time. In my opinion the Republican message should be one of Conservative values crafted not to target a particular demographic, but to all who believe in conservative values. Develop your brand promise, be consistent in living your brand promise…build brand equity.

And, from still another reader:

This must be a typo. You wrote:
“On "Morning Joe" this morning, David Frum suggested that a primary goal of the book was to define the gap between the conservative political establishment and the conservative entertainment establishment; the latter, he suggests, has not served the former well, painting them into an ideological corner that makes it difficult to govern.”
You must have meant liberal entertainment establishment.

No, that is not a typo.  That is what Frum said.  And apparently what he wrote, in his new book, "Why Romney Lost," though I have not read the book yet.

His point is that entertainment figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity do not do the conservative movement any favors because they paint the world in black-and-white terms, when almost all governing has to take place in gray areas.  (This would go for liberals as well…but he was specifically talking about the conservative movement.)  His says that their model is a business model - they take positions and position what they say in order to draw a crowd, get ratings and make more money.  But it is not a governance model.  Because the conservative entertainment establishment draws stark lines, he says, it does not give conservative elected officials room to maneuver … putting them in a position where they cannot negotiate to get 50 percent of what they want, because of fear that they will be roasted on Fox News or by conservative talk radio for not holding out for 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100 percent of what they wanted.

This strikes me as a reasonable assessment, and a good object lesson for people on either side of the aisle.  (Keep in mind it comes from a former Bush speechwriter.)

I also think that it is unreasonable to suggest that there is not a "conservative entertainment establishment," since Limbaugh has the highest rated radio program in the country, Fox News is the highest rated cable news network in the country, and there certainly seem to be more conservative radio talk show hosts than those of the liberal stripe.  Is there a liberal media establishment?  Of course.  But since Ronald Reagan got inaugurated in 1981, the GOP has held the White House for 20 years (Reagan for 8, Bush for 4, and Bush for 8), while Democrats have held it for 16 (Clinton for 8 and now Obama for 8).  So at least at the presidential level, the two sides seem to have fought pretty much to a tie, with a slight advantage to the GOP.

And, we continue to get email on the subject of tattoos...

One MNB user wrote:

I wasn't going to weigh in (since I don't have kids) but I had to respond to this commenter...

What I don't understand is people that use EBT and yet they are covered with tattoos.  This may be a minority of EBT users, but the question always comes to mind, "if there is a decision to be made between feeding my family, or getting a tattoo, who would ever choose to get a tattoo?" If a person qualifies for EBT, where is the money coming from for the tattoo?

It's pretty obvious that I'm an old guy, with traditional values.  I'm not saying that people should not have tattoos. I'm just trying to figure out the rationale people have when they can afford a tattoo but have to rely on the government to feed his/her family.

I see and hear people making these kinds of comments a lot and it bugs me. "People on SNAP are buying steak and lobster, they shouldn't be buying such expensive food" or "look at that person on welfare, they are driving a nice car/have an iPhone/have nice nails/tattoos".

People please stop. Stop and think for a minute. Maybe these folks had these things BEFORE they had to go on public assistance. They got laid off from their jobs thanks to the economy and now rely on SNAP to help stretch their unemployment dollars. And if they are buying steak and lobster-or junk food for that matter, it isn't any of your business. They get an allotted amount each month to spend and when it runs out, that is it. No more until next month. You wouldn't think of looking at your next door neighbor and judging what they put in their grocery cart would you? (And if you do, stop that as well) I'd like to smack Reagan for starting that whole "Welfare Queen " myth.

From another reader:

I was very entertained reading about everyone’s tattoo stories, but I wanted to offer just one piece of advice to the reader who is now 35 and likened your story to her own experience with her father when she was young. The only part of the story that bothered me was fact that even today she hides the tattoo from him, even though the rest of her family knows she has it. She said that it was out of respect for his feelings, and I believe 100% that her heart is in the right place. It sounds to me like she loves him very much and clearly he cares enough about her to have given her the option of losing her car if she got a tattoo.

Anyway, as the father of two girls, I wanted to say to her, please, please tell your father that you got that tattoo! I assume since you are 35 years old that your father no longer has any substantive control over you and that telling him will cost you nothing. But listen to me when I tell you that even though it might sting him a little to learn what you did, you will give him the deepest sense of satisfaction that his daughter (the woman he raised) had integrity and showed respect to him by being able to be honest with him about it. You don’t have to flaunt it or even show it to him at all. Just the fact that you were honest with him will matter now.
He might not like the idea of a tattoo on his daughter, but he will gladly exchange it for the knowledge that he has a daughter who loves him enough to tell him about it. I don’t know you, but this sounds like an EASY win for you. A slam dunk in showing your father exactly how much you love and respect him.
Please don’t let him find out about the tattoo the hard way.

From MNB user Kari Mitchell:

Glad to see a lot of parents in the same boat of the tat issue.  I have had the initial conversation with both my teenagers and I have ended with “if you have to have one put it in a spot not readily seen and DON’T tell your dad."

MNB user Sue Seisler wrote:

I am a professional sales person who at the age of 50 decided to get a tattoo on my birthday.  This was some years ago.  It is a tasteful, colorful, meaningful rendering of a beautiful flower above my right ankle.  It is a personal expression of what I hold dear in my heart – the beauty & wonder of nature. 

But what I remember most about that day was the story the artist told me:  An 80 year old woman came in to the shop recently to get a tattoo.  She said her husband would never allow her to get one.  Since he had just recently passed away, she decided to finally get what she always wanted.  It was a small heart on the inside of her wrist. The young man was so touched, he was choking up telling me the story.  He said he was so honored that he was the one she chose to do the work.

Still another reader chimed in:

I’m about your age, love the band Yes.  At the end of the century some friends and I had chased the band Yes through Tulsa to Dallas.  After two fantastic back to back performances, a meet and greet with the band & autographs all around we left the Bronco Bowl and drove to Deep Ellum (the night was still young) and decided to get Tattoo’s of the bands familiar (to aging hipsters) YES logo.  Once inside the parlor, we all wussed out.  However, it was determined that if you’re going to get one, and concerned that the ink would look stale on flabby old codger skin when we are sprung from this mortal coil, age 50 is the right time!  The ink would still look good when we die.  PS – one of my buddies finally did take the plunge, and his upper bicep Yes logo looks fantastic!  Me, I’m skipping that deal….my two daughters have enough ink for the whole clan.
KC's View: