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Support: Another Reason Why Retail Stores Differentiate Apple from the Competition



Yesterday I wasn’t happy at all when my new MacBook Pro wouldn’t charge. After finishing up a project on battery and then using my TouchSmart PC for the remainder of my workday, I diagnosed the problem as a bad AC adapter. The only thing worse than a component dying after only a few months of use is when the computer costs $2,350.

Fortunately, I have a couple of spare MacBook adapters and plenty of computers at my disposal. Most consumers don’t have this luxury and would be up a creek, especially if they were on a deadline.

When most consumer notebooks break down, getting a replacement part begins with a phone call to a support center, which is often overseas. Depending on the company and rep, they may or may not require you to send the notebook in for an evaluation before sending out a new adapter. In most cases, consumers don’t even have a spare adapter laying around to perform a test, which means some would think it’s a more serious problem. Those who aren’t patient or unable to go a day without their PC would likely head down to their local electronics retailer and buy a third-party adapter or just leave the whole mess at the Geek Squad counter.


Instead of having to dial an 800 number, mail off my MacBook Pro or pay for anything, I simply walked into an Apple retail store. There are several to choose from in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I happened to be near one around lunchtime today in Palo Alto.

The Genius Bar didn’t have anyone available to help for a few hours, so I simply asked a store rep for help. I told her that I was 100% sure the root of my charging problem was a faulty AC adapter and I asked if there was any way I could avoid having to wait for a Genius. She conferred with another Apple employee, who suggested she just give me a new Adapter and asked me which model I needed. She grabbed the proper adapter off the shelf, unboxed it and handed it over. I didn’t have part of the adapter, the compact plug, with me, but she didn’t care. She kept the box, stuffed my faulty adapter into it and said they’d just send it somewhere (my guess is a garbage dumpster). Within five minutes of walking into the store my problem was solved. They beat my expectations.


I wish other popular manufacturers had such service in a retail environment. A while back, Sony announced that its SonyStyle stores would have in-house service centers, but I’ve yet to see one since the flagship SonyStyle store in San Francisco shuttered its doors. It’d be great if there were somewhere local where I could have my HP Envy 15 repaired instead of having to send it off for four to eight weeks. I broke a corner of its lid off during CES 2010 when I dropped it and it remains broken on my desk. My insurance company’s offered to cover most of the repair costs, but it’s a hassle I’ve been too busy to deal with and I don’t want to go that long without the machine. I called several repair shops and every one of them told me I’d have to send it in to HP. Apparently, the Geek Squad won’t make physical damage repairs and suggested I just buy a new one.

Microsoft is still testing out its retail stores, but I don’t think they’ll be able/want to support the multitude of PCs issues. Would it be too much to ask for Dell, HP, Acer, Lenovo and Toshiba to have at least one retail store in major metro areas? Yes, I know it would cost a ton of money to set them up, but the costs could be offset by building customer loyalty and allowing consumers to speak to company reps, rather than Blue Shirts who will recommend competitive products because they cost a few bucks less, rather than evaluating customers’ needs.

I use PCs and Macs of all kinds for different purposes and projects. But most people only have one. This level of instant support is just one reason why more and more consumers are making that only computer a Mac.




  1. Tim

    08/12/2010 at 6:37 pm

    dayum, $2,350- that’s like 10 netbooks

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/12/2010 at 7:01 pm

      Yes, but it’s much more useful than 10 netbooks. Still a little on the pricey side considering comprable PC hardware.

  2. TabletTeacher

    08/12/2010 at 6:54 pm

    No doubt. Try getting that service from Dell, Gateway, or any other manufacturer. They had a Gateway Store in Madison, but it didn’t last long. Now, It’s a jewlery store.

    Be careful on your praise for Apple. Acerbic may get on here and call you a fanboy. LOL.

    As for the service, my hinge went out, they had the part shipped overnight and fixed it within one day.

    I also downloaded a beta program for an interactive whiteboard and it crashed my system. My restore disks didn’t work, so they pulled them out of another MacBook Pro Box and had my system restored immediately. Try that with a Gateway, Dell, or other HP from BestBuy, etc. All of those systems are built with the same model number, but different HD, RAM, Motherboard, etc.

    Gee, maybe there is something to a closed-system of not allowing different manufactured parts, programs, etc.?? That allows you to pull parts out of a new package and it will work with any system Apple sells. I agree, this consistent approach is why many consumers are switching.

    I use PC at work and home, but I find the Mac more stable.

  3. Bo

    08/12/2010 at 8:16 pm

    Why wouldn’t you just go in the store and purchase the item you needed? It wasn’t like some internal part was messed up, just your AC cord. I just don’t understand how your problem would even need to be brought up to anyone there, simply walk in and buy what you need.

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/12/2010 at 8:59 pm

      Are you serious? I brought it up because I recently spent about $2,600 (after tax) on a computer and it’s still under warranty. I didn’t have to fight with them or anything crazy- I simply asked them for help getting the service I’d already paid for. They delivered that service promptly and in a kind way.
      Why would I blow another $90 on an AC adapter that was covered under warranty? Sure, I have the $ in my wallet to buy an extra adapter if I wanted to pay for it, but that would just be wasteful. There’s a lot of other gadgets and things in my life I’d rather buy with that money.

      • BO

        08/13/2010 at 6:22 pm

        I apologize, missed an important piece of information, I missed the part about it being NEW. I was assuming it was an older machine.

  4. aftermath

    08/12/2010 at 8:58 pm

    Retail stores make Apple different? Yes. Does it make them better? You decide.

    (I try to blow off posts like this, but I’m afraid that somebody who doesn’t know any better will read what you wrote and seek to appropriate your experience for themselves without even challenging it. I know this is going to increase my unpopularity, but for the benefits of the innocents amongst us…)

    All that you say is true, and I’m happy that you’re happy. However, those trees that you’re happy about are part of a forest.

    A CENTRAL component of Apple’s business model is that you, the customer, become dependent on them for almost everything. For example, on many models of laptops, phones, tablets, etc., if something INEVITABLE happens like your battery reaches the end of its useful life you… wait for it… remove it. You buy a new one. You install it. However, on most Apple products, you have to jump in the car, drive to the mall (where let’s face it, all the nicest shops and restaurants are located), and get a “Genius” to turn your $1000 paper weight into a viable piece of electronics again for a small fee. What heroically nice guys! That’s the OTHER side of the coin, and the bigger picture in which your scenario is nested.

    Most types of abilities are well distinguished as “can” and “must”, and they are very different. Your ability to wear any hat in public is a “can”. Your ability to wear any pair of pants in public is a “must”. Unless I’m reading you wrong, it seems as though you think the ability to pop into an Apple is a “can” and are missing the fact that it’s almost always a “must”. If you don’t understand that it’s a must, then you don’t understand the consequences of all of the “must-pieces”.

    It’s not about “full service care”, it’s about creating a retail environment that wears down your ability to reason and amplifies your emotional addictions. The fact that they’ve even gotten you to feel good about having to enter that experience to receive service for a defective component is a tribute to the power of their marketing. While you were having your “what a convenience” moment, you were being bombarded by hundreds of marketing messages. Obviously, you’re a well-reasoned and insightful guy and, unlike most of the people who were at the store with you, you were comprehensively aware of all of the well-researched and highly calculated effects that Apple was attempting to generate for you but were competently effective at staving off all of it (in crediting you with this, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt despite the fact that you wrote about how you FEEL about the retail store rather than trying to make a rational analysis of it from a business standpoint). However, I worry about those who don’t share your same 6-sigma level of astuteness, capacity, and resilience. That you know but don’t mind is one thing, but it’s wrong to call that a “nice thing” for the consumer. It’s a nice thing for Apple. It’s a great thing for Apple. It’s a pretty terrible thing for a typical consumer, a consumer who is the target of collectively tens-to-hundreds of thousand of marketing tactics a year backed by research and deployment expenditures in the trillions of dollars. These business people are engineering you. They are the ones who know what “source amnesia” means and how to induce it on the little screen that you’ve paid them hundreds or thousands of dollars to stare it. By contrast, you’re the one headed off to “Google” the term “source amnesia” on your Apple product and even after you know what it means you won’t be able to protect yourself from it because by definition your awareness is being sabotaged. This isn’t just an Apple thing, it’s a business thing. However, the “retail experience” that you’re trying to celebrate here is actually a prime example of how to undermine your customer. It’s actually a very devious game that Apple plays against you, and it’s more something to question than to celebrate. I’m glad you like it, but it’s not for me.

    • Xavier Lanier

      08/12/2010 at 9:12 pm

      Thanks for the lengthy comment- we always love getting different points of view here at GottaBeMobile. You’re spot on that the Apple retail stores do more for Apple than they do for consumers- if they didn’t exist we’d still be able to buy iPhones at AT&T stores, many of which are in close proximity to Apple stores.
      I still wish that HP, Dell, etc. would offer something comprable in terms of service.
      The non-removable battery in all of Apple’s products does bug me as it does reinforce the fact that gadgets are designed to be disposable these days.

    • Brett Gilbertson

      08/13/2010 at 5:45 pm

      As a marketer (not desirous of Apple’s ilk), I agree with your comment aftermath. In the Computer business, apple leave all of the others for dead in this respect (i.e. messing with malleable minds).

      In other “shopping mall” business this type of marketing is rife. Unfortunately there is an abundance of “do as your told / stand in line” well schooled “human capital” to feed businesses like this.

      However, I think the reality is that as Xavier pointed out it simply does work. If other Computer companies want to compete, they must embrace the tactics to compete or attack them and expose them.

  5. Tim

    08/13/2010 at 5:11 am

    There’s always the alternative way of looking at it: With a lower priced competitor, you could have easily bought a new power adapter (regardless of warranty status, esp since most adapters I sell at my store are replacing ~4 year old ones) and still come in under the price of the MacBook.

    Basically, let’s not ignore the fact that the cost of the added support of Apple Stores is paid for by users in the unit cost. Furthermore, a lot of the other companies now offer in-home service coverage on their extended warranties (AppleCare does neither in-home nor ADH last I checked), so perhaps it’s worth comparing similar systems with warranty prices included to see whose support is easiest at the lowest price.

  6. Elmstrom

    08/13/2010 at 6:28 am

    For the price it should be expected, i have 2 dell laptops with word wide pro-service, so i get what ever breaks fixed with-in 24hour. i had a psu fail on me, and had a new next day (i did not have to send in the old one). But the service do not come cheap, same could be said about apple.

  7. Tuur

    08/13/2010 at 3:22 pm

    I have always been pleased with my Dell garantee for many years (mostly Gold support, next business day on site).
    Dell’s main selling chain is direct sales, that’s a choice they made.
    So as a costumer, I know this in advance, so I got no problem with that.

    • TabletTeacher

      08/13/2010 at 5:38 pm

      So, when you call, do you actually get someone from the “USA”? If so, I’d be very surprised. The only time i ever got decent support from DELL was to contact “Chat Support” online. Big drawback from them outsourcing.

      Not all DELL PC’s are handled that way. Try buying one from Best Buy and having the same components as the one you’d buy from DELL online. Just doesn’t happen. Same way with Gateway.

  8. MLM

    08/14/2010 at 7:12 am

    Wait a second.

    It’a all well and good that Apple stores are available in SOME bigger cities. However, for many, many people, the luxury of walking into an Apple store for help isn’t an option. So, any superior value added is lost. Then, it’s web, phone, onsite or shipping to fix things just like the other vendors.

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