Apple may be rethinking the role of its ‘geniuses’ in stores

Photo: Apple
Apr 28, 2022

Apple has pumped the brakes on hiring new associates to work its Genius bars in some stores leading to speculation that the tech giant may be rethinking how it deploys workers in its locations.

Bloomberg was the first to report that Apple has chosen not to fill open Genius positions in some stores. It has also not moved ahead with verbal job offers made to some individuals slated to work at the company’s stores. The news service reports that Apple has not put a widespread hiring freeze in place or laid off geniuses.

Apple’s reality along with many other retailers is that in-store shopping patterns have changed since the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The company is assessing staffing levels and the functions that workers perform. Some stores in recent years have eliminated the use of Genius Bars and opted to put more associates on the floor to help customers.

The company has tested a flexwork model where store staff are able to work remotely some weeks and on-premises on others. Associates working at home handle online sales, customer service and tech support.

Apple yesterday launched its online Self Service Repair Store. The site gives customers access to repair manuals and genuine parts and tools for its iPhone 12, 13 and third–generation SE models.

The tech giant has made a concerted effort in recent years to diversify its service network using third-party providers. Apple said it has nearly doubled the number of independent repair providers for its products giving consumers nearby access across most of the U.S. Eighty percent of Apple customers, according to the company, are within a 20-minute drive to an authorized service provider.

Apple’s continuing review of its staffing needs comes at a time when unionizing activity is on the rise.

The company has hired the same law firm, Littler Mendelson, representing Starbucks in its fight to keep baristas organizing its coffee shops, reports The Verge.

Workers at an Apple store in Atlanta last week became the first to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. Over 70 percent of the roughly 100 workers at the Apple in Cumberland Mall signed authorization cards in support of joining the Communications Workers of America. It is the same union that represents workers at AT&T Mobility and Verizon, according to The New York Times.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see a need for Apple to rethink how it deploys associates in stores and remotely based on changes in shopping behavior accelerated during the pandemic? Do Genius Bars and the people who staff them still have a positive role to play?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
" I don’t think it’s a smart move to reduce the number of associates on the floor, as they provide such crucial value to the Apple in-store experience."
"Oh, come on. The Apple Store IS its geniuses."
"The Genius Bar is the epitome of immediate gratification. It beats chat support by a mile."

Join the Discussion!

14 Comments on "Apple may be rethinking the role of its ‘geniuses’ in stores"

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Melissa Minkow

Geniuses are fundamental to the Apple Store experience. Shoppers so often go into Apple stores for the hands-on help. I don’t think it’s a smart move to reduce the number of associates on the floor, as they provide such crucial value to the Apple in-store experience.

Bob Amster

The Genius Bar is the epitome of immediate gratification. It beats chat support by a mile. As a consumer I love it, although I don’t use it often. From Apple’s perspective, it may be more cost effective to use all in-store associates to perform the same function, plus sell and assist customers. Do we know?

Carol Spieckerman

Like most retailers, Apple is reevaluating the balance between high tech and high touch. It has the data to determine when automation can address common concerns and opportunities. The key will be for Apple to maintain the appearance of having Geniuses at the ready even as it prunes down personalization.

Neil Saunders

Apple’s shops look great. And most associates are very helpful and pleasant. The biggest problem? Finding someone to help! There are no registers and while there is sometimes a greeter at the door, you often have to wander around trying to catch someone’s eye to get help or to pay for something. Deploying fewer staff in store would exacerbate this problem and I don’t think it is very clever!

Jeff Sward

In my tours of the mall, any mall, Apple is by far the most densely populated — with both shoppers and associates. And they sometimes have queues of people waiting to get in. So I doubt staff reduction is the goal. Staff efficiency and customer experience, absolutely. Add a union drive and a major review of staffing assignments and priorities is no surprise.

Georganne Bender

Pre-pandemic, visiting an Apple store had always been a hassle. There were plenty of associates on the sales floor but my questions usually required an Apple Genius and an appointment that wouldn’t happen anytime soon. Unless it was a trip to buy something new a trip to Apple was a frustrating experience.

It’s much better now. The associates at the store closest to my home (50 miles round trip) are there to do more than sell. They solve problems and when they can’t they whisk your product to the back for help that I assume comes from a Genius.

The perception of a store teeming with associates who can’t always help you isn’t a good one. This is a smart move for Apple.

Lee Peterson

I was really surprised to read about this. For years, everyone I know has gone on and on about Apple and how their stores are more than just stores, they’re service centers. And without that element, they’d be the same (or worse) as a Best Buy. It’s hard to believe that the almighty dollar (sales cost) would get in the way of one of the true differentiators in retail today, and sad to think that a percentage on the P&L sheet would rule over customer love. Steve is rolling over in his grave.

Rich Kizer

I have always found comfort in the assumption that the associates on the floor will help solve my issue entirely. That is comfort for me. I also believe Apple could create deployed remote Genius staffers, which I think many customers would appreciate and frequent. These changes will produce a spirit of constant reflection and change by the company as to how better to serve everyone.

Bob Phibbs

Let’s be honest, they didn’t replace Angela Ahrendts but lumped her duties into HR. And yes, I believe the unionization effort will affect many who are targeted. Find more ways for customers to do more without your help. It fundamentally is against how they built the brand but when you sell 125 billion in 2021 you need to manage your money wisely.

Paula Rosenblum

To be honest, over the past few years I haven’t found the Geniuses as bright and helpful as they were in earlier days. I don’t know if they had too much on their plate, or if expenses were cut, but I have found them frustrating. The details are too boring to repeat, but on one occasion I had to explain the guy that he wasn’t right and on another, my partner was sold a machine that was under-powered because, well, that’s what they had in the store.

This is vs. the older days in the 2010s when they were superb. So it sounds more serious than it will be. They’ve already reduced them.

Cathy Hotka

Oh, come on. The Apple Store IS its geniuses. If I have a problem with my Apple product I can get help within a few hours. Take that away, and I honestly don’t know what will happen to the brand. (Remember when you used to leave your PC at a retail store for maintenance and pick it up a week later?)

Rick Wilson

The new Self Service Repair program is a very welcome development for the Apple community, as the “right to repair” issue has been thorny for years. However this is still a pretty niche solution for support and, at this point, so is in-person Genius support in physical stores. It’s smart of Apple to dial this program up or down as needed flex-style. But that doesn’t mean drop the humanity from service! That human talent and deep product training should be re-directed to improved online support, with live chats with associates available on demand, in whatever format or level of automation a customer prefers. The iconic retail stores will continue to be the best place to hold the products, and get swept up in the world-class merchandising.

Brent Biddulph

Seems to me Apple is exploring a bit more self-service versus total control to rebalance their overall device GTM strategy. After all, their customers have been demanding this for years, even spawning shadow industries as a result. This experiment is likely to continue.

Brad Halverson
With stories like this, it’s always fun to ask, “What would Steve Jobs do? Would he put up with what’s going on here? How would be break up this complicated mess and make it for the customer experience?” One of the joys of being an Apple customer in the last 20 years has been going to a retail store, showing an associate what’s wrong with your laptop/device and getting tutored on the product or getting it fixed. Maybe you’ll even buy something in store. Yes you had to get in your car, find parking and an available time slot, but it was better than trying to solve it by phone. If the Apple customer experience gets further reduced down to a phone tree menus, chat boxes, drop down self help menus and print out shipping labels (while not having your device for days on end), I doubt this is what Steve Jobs had envisioned. Apple should listen to its core customer base here, the people who have spent many thousands of dollars and have embraced… Read more »
" I don’t think it’s a smart move to reduce the number of associates on the floor, as they provide such crucial value to the Apple in-store experience."
"Oh, come on. The Apple Store IS its geniuses."
"The Genius Bar is the epitome of immediate gratification. It beats chat support by a mile."

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