I tend to avoid malls between “Black Friday” and January 1. I dislike pushy crowds of individuals, all pushing through the mass pursing their own agenda – it’s overwhelmingly stressful. For some reason, however, I thought it would be a good idea to head to Cherry Hill Mall on “Boxing Day” to see if I could pick up an Apple Bluetooth keyboard to use with my iPad. It was not one of my most brilliant ideas.
The mall was mobbed, and we ill-advisedly decided to find a spot in the upper levels of the parking garage. As we went up, we were staggered by the number of cars in line going down, an unbroken string of 4 doors and SUV’s filled with unhappy people.
The line out of the parking garage was so bad after we finished shopping we went back to our car and decided to walk across the mall parking lot, a pedestrian bridge, and another parking lot to have dinner at the Silver Diner (where there was no wait for seating). It was a good move, by the time we got back, the parking garage line was non-existent.
In the midst of this retail asylum, however, I found a brief moment of peace. The Apple Store was probably the most crowded store in the mall, and if I had gone in to browse I may have run out of the building screaming my head off. I knew exactly what I wanted, so I navigated to the shelf where the keyboards are kept, pulled it down, and looked around for a Apple Store employee to check me out (and mercifully spared the mass of people from my shrieks of terror – a saving throw against paralysis is needed to avoid damage). I scanned for a moment and then flagged down a passing Apple-shirted employee who smiled and said, “Oh we have an express line going to, and I need to get there, let me show you where it is and I can assure it it won’t be a long wait.” Up to the front of the store we went, and I stood in line.
It was a rather long line, but it moved fast, so I waited. I then noticed something troubling, I was planning paying with cash, and it didn’t look like there was any cash-box up front. Not wanting to confuse people, I prepared to pay with my bank card. As I waited I recalled a recent update to the Apple Store app which allows for self-checkout in the Apple Store. I took out my iPhone, opened the app, scanned the Keyboard, and checked out. I was immediately presented with a receipt notifying me the transaction had been completed. This took about 30 seconds.
I was a bit perplexed about what do to next, so I found an Apple-shirted worker flashed my receipt, and asked, “So, I can just leave?” The Apple-shirted person grinned and said, “Oh yah, go ahead!” I walked out of the store, and explained to my wife how it worked. My wife, who is infinitely more observant than I, ignored my wonder at the process and said, “Don’t you want a bag?”
Armed with my iPhone receipt and newly purchased keyboard, I marched back into the store, found yet another Apple-shirted person, and said, “Sorry, can I get a bag?” He smirked, handed me a bag, and said, “Here you go.” My second trip into the mass of people probably took less than a minute.
All through the process, while surrounded by a marauding band of individuals wanting their retail fix, I became aware of a missing component to my normal retail quests. From the moment I went into the Apple Store, to the moment I turned away to head elsewhere in the mall, I had no stress. I wasn’t jostled, cut off, or treated rudely by clerks who view the customer as the enemy. Instead I was calm, able to think, and got great help when I needed it. This may have been possible partly because I knew precisely what I was looking for, but had the check out experience be awful that wouldn’t have mattered one bit. Apple simply knows how to create a great experience while shopping in their stores. Even on one of the busiest days of the year, and a day after that same store had been broken into and had $36,000 worth of merchandise pilfered from it. It is truly impressive. Everywhere else in the mall was filled with line after line after line – but the Apple Store “thought different” about even that.
Retail isn’t some great noble endeavor, but Apple figured out a retail experience shouldn’t be completely de-humanizing. I have to say, my hat’s off to them.