Apple finds a "slippery slope" | Opinion

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal 

Last weekend I visited an Apple store for the first time in a while, and was surprised to see all the employees wearing a badge on a lanyard that said: “Let me help you make iPhone your phone.”

To me this felt like a shift toward sales; away from the tradition of strong service and experience orientation I have always felt in Apple stores.

I suppose like myself, many of you might have been wondering how long it would take for Apple to become ordinary after the death of Steve Jobs. No doubt we all hoped that it might have continued to be that shining company on a hill that all of us yearn for and hope will be our workplace someday.

Then came the iPad Mini.

What? Apple offering a “me too” product? Mr. Jobs would have paled and railed at the thought.

Did we hope (as I did) that this was an aberration and soon there would be a return to the pride filled days of truly new product introductions? Right now Apple is being caught by a host of competitors for the first time in a long time.

This is now of course the era of Tim Cook, and probably not to the surprise of many, he is not the second coming of Steve Jobs—nor should we have expected him to be.

We might have expected him, however, to honor a past that included not only innovative products but a leadership in retail customer service, a place where the bloom seems to now have left the rose.

I thought possibly my recent experience was just incidental, then I saw a recent piece in The Atlantic Wire, “It May Be the End of the Apple Store as We Know It,” in which the author, Rebecca Greenfield, proceeded to report:

“Changes are afoot at the Apple store, which has lost some of its shine, no longer as much a draw for spend-happy suburbanites. The sleek store-fronts that “changed the retail game” back in 2001, saw a $4 billion drop in sales last quarter — the first year-over-year drop since 2009. The novelty of an Apple store at the mall has worn off, and without a head of retail at Apple headquarters, the stores have stagnated.”

According to Greenfield, along with the novelty wearing off and stagnation setting in a mood of austerity has descended on the retail outlets:

“In addition to cutting back on basic supplies, like paper, pens, and replacement logo stamped T-shirt uniforms, Apple has asked workers to focus on sales rather than customer service.”

And further:

“Staff assigned to the Genius Bar were told to hit the sales floor in between classes, for example. Genius Bar employees don’t bring in that many buyers, and the time spent with them doesn’t always result in a purchase.”

If I am an Apple retail employee, right now I am thinking, “Yuck”, this is not what I came here for.”

I am only guessing here but I’ll bet that the shift that has taken place at Apple is more than just Steve Jobs is gone. It is also that there is no one there who clearly remembers or reveres these words from the founder: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful—that’s what matters to me.” (CNNMoney/Fortune, 1993)

It is hard for me to believe that Steve Jobs would have gone to bed at night and slept well knowing what is going on with his company now.

For my part, I am not here to say that it could have gone any other way than the way it seems to be going for Apple. Replacing Steve Jobs was not a very likely possibility.

It does seem though that that absent the genius to innovate that Jobs provided, the company could have remained true to his desire to be known for doing something wonderful rather than merely posturing for market share and stock price.

So how far is it from Oz to Ordinary? It’s beginning to look like about 18 months.

Steve Jobs has passed on and with it all that was legendary about Apple. The king is dead.

All hail the new king: Jeff Bezos.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at

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