Will This New Sales Strategy Hurt Apple?

Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iQueue system — where customers were individually helped on a first-come, first-serve basis — is out. In its place, the company is slowly unveiling a new strategy in its retail stores that it has called “table selling,” reported 9to5Mac.

The initiative calls for Apple Store employees to be assigned to different product tables where they will help customers — who may have different needs but are interested or have questions about the same device.

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While assisting multiple customers with similar devices could help Apple sell more iPads and iPhones at a quicker pace, the strategy has been criticized. Sources familiar with the company’s plans told 9to5Mac that some Apple Store employees think that this new strategy could take away from the personal experience that its iconic retail outlets have partially built their reputation on. “I don’t think everyone has the same questions or needs,” an Apple Store employee told the publication. “I feel like it’s slowly turning us into Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). Every time I go to Best Buy, there is one guy barely able to handle and help 5 people all wanting different things. [Group selling] is taking away what used to make Apple special,” added the source…

Apple’s store concept has been termed unconventional since it was first debuted in 2001, and that reputation has only strengthened in the intervening years. Approximately two years ago, the iPhone maker replaced its traditional signage with iPads, and each Smart Sign came with a “specialist” button the allowed customers to join the “iQueue.” The company even poured time into training its employees on the use of its technology to better help customers.

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At one time, Apple offered help for customers having problems with non-Apple supported services. But now, the company’s management has mandated that its retail employees provide only minor support on third-party products, like non-Apple built Mac applications. This is just one sign of the changes occurring at Apple.

The company’s notoriously strong emphasis on customer service — not to mention the widespread following its innovative products have inspired — helped its stores have the highest sales per square foot for the past two years. Apple’s popularity has led to crowding at its stores as well, hence the new customer service policy. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook made mention of these spatial constraints at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference last February. “Some of our stores aren’t big enough. But like cash, it’s a good problem to have,” he said. “So this year we’re closing 20 stores and moving them to larger spaces.”

In comparison, former senior vice president of retail John Browett, who was fired last fall, believed that reducing the number of employees was the solution to the over crowding. The subsequent outcry forced a reversal and an apology.

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