Business Too Good at the Apple Store


I have been visiting Washington area Apple Stores since the first one in the country opened at Tysons Corner, VA. So I was a little shocked today when I discovered a chaotic Apple Store at the Montgomery Mall in Bethesda. The problem appears to be mainly a smallish store that simply has more business than it can handle. It showed the Apple Store is not always keeping up with its customers.

Apple lineI went to an appointment at the store with my wife, Susan, to have her iPad 2 repaired — it had stopped powering up. We had an appointment at the store and were surprised by how mobbed it was, with a line out front for purchasers of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It was the first time I could recall walking into an Apple Store without being asked for my business as soon as I walked in. I ended up standing in line at the Genius Bar only to find out there was room only for iMacs (somewhat oddly, the store has more business with Macs than anything else) and I’d have to find someone else in the store.

After several attempts with the scheduler at the door, I was told we would be seen at the Genius Bar. I’m glad to say although we were nearly 45 minutes behind our appointment, things finally got back to normal with the kind of response I am used to at Apple Stores. The genius promptly checked the iPad and found it would not respond to power. I couldn’t be told whether the problem was the battery or the power supply, but it doesn’t matter since you can’t replace either. So we paid $100 to replace the iPad, not a bad price since my wife is happy with the iPad she has and a new updated unit would have cost at least $529.

It was the first time I can recall being annoyed by poor customer service at an Apple Store. It’s probably the result of a store too small and too understaffed to deal with success. But many companies have made customers unhappy by failing to offer prompt service (not, I must say, a problem that Microsoft has suffered from) and doing too well can be a problem.

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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

21 thoughts on “Business Too Good at the Apple Store”

  1. I had a similar experience in the Toronto area. But I think the problem was going to the store the same week as the iPhone 6 launch. Apple will soon have to expand their stores as they add more products (watches) and their customer base increases. For some stores, there is really no downtime.

  2. I was a little surprised to read something on this site that has obviously not been proof read. There is an unusual number of typo’s or poorly phrased sentences here. Apart from that it’s confusing and feels like something written for the sake of writing something.

  3. Launch of the iPhone timing aside, it does make one wonder where the weakness resides, if it is management or systemic. Seems at odds with Apple’s typical culture of customer service.

    Good to see you and your writing again! Hope this is indicative of your recovery and of more to come. Think about you often.

    1. This. Good to hear from you again, and I look forward to more articles when and as you are able to write them.

  4. I imagine many of the early stores are too small for their current crowds, especially around product launches and holidays. Before moving to a much larger location on the first floor, the one in Towson, Maryland felt like going to a hipster motor vehicle administration office except it was less organized.

    I had an additional hope that Apple moved into the larger location to make room for selling televisions, but that never came to fruition.

  5. Welcome back Mr. Wildstrom. Glad to have you writing for Tech.pinions again. In regards to that Apple Retail Store, I also agree with the other commenters that it probably is due for an upgrade to a larger store. You can check to see if a larger store is planned in your area at this great website:

    However looking around it looks like Apple does have a larger store in your area at Bethesda Row. I assume that the Montgomery Mall one was just more convenient at the time. For me, I normally like to go to the larger Apple Retail Stores as I find that I am less likely to have the same problems you did. The good news is that most of the Apple stores here in the San Francisco Bay Area have been expanded to meet the needs of the growing Apple customer base.

    This is “Apple Country” here. 🙂

    1. There is indeed a bigger store at Bethesda Row but it’s less convenient unless you live in the area (which many do). The Montgomery Mall location is better if you have to drive.

      1. Yeah. That is the problem with the Apple Stores that are on main street’s versus’s in shopping malls. Parking can be a problem but it does depend on what store has more of the stuff you are looking for. I am willing to put up with any parking hassles if the store has what I am looking for in stock. However I am lucky around here as Apple has expanded both stores here to be larger so both the mall and main street stores are the same size.

  6. Steve, I have had the same problem with a busy store and wait time for an appointment. Frustrating.

    However, I think another story here is of interest. The iPad 2 must be beyond its AppleCare Warranty. But $100 for a newer iPad, Apple shines, eh?
    Good to see you back, Steve.
    Namaste and care,

    1. Agreed about the $100.00 for the the iPad replacement. I have had a similar experience at the Phoenix and Scottsdale AZ stores. Similar but not the same.

      Perhaps a better way of “triaging” product problems is the answer. An expedited use of the phone or even better Amazon’s May Day process (not my original idea just want to spread it around courtesy of the original thinker) so that we get “coded” appointments? As in, “Good day M/M Wildstrom, please step over here to get your iPad 2 replacement…”

      Too fantastical? I don’t know. But don’t shoot me I’m only the catalyst (as in jfrutal, mhiki, space gorilla, and of, course, klahanas, to name a few).

      And Steve, let me join in the well-wishers for your continued recovery!


      1. I hate to state the obvious but if the product isn’t powering on May Day will be of little use.

        The May Day service is novel but only if you need help using the product, not for when the product is faulty. From there you’ll still at the mercy of call center slobs with a tier-one support staff trudging through mundane, scripted questions like, “Deed chew check-ah de battery-ah, mistah Smiths?”

        Aside from the human element — long hours with minimal pay combined with irate customers will effect most anyone — the retail experience of the Apple Store, as it relates to similar retail outlets in technology, is unmatched.

        The HDD in my 6-year old MacBook Pro recently died and while they couldn’t replace it (it’s too old) they did offer to reinstall the OS at no charge. Took all of about 30 minutes from the time I sat down to the time I was walking out the door and the Genius Bar, uh, genius was professional and fun to work with.

        1. Thanks for the reply. It is good that people no more about these things than I do. Any other thoughts on how to triage these things>
          Like you, I have always left the Apple Store after the Genius Bar with a smile on my face…

  7. Your probably right. I’m sure Apple will fix. Because it is an operational problem. Just hire more staff and when that no longer works, get a bigger space.

  8. It’s my closest store and it’s nearly always like this. “What?”, you ask, “even 2 PM on Tuesday afternoon??”

    Yep. This one needs to be twice the size.

  9. And while there yesterday I noticed a big Microsoft Store under construction there. It’s on the corner near Macy’s and the signs say it will open 22 Nov.

    Apple really does need a bigger store in this location.

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