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Monday, November 20, 2006, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Apple enlists 'Rhonda' to help drive Mac sales at retail

Apple Computer this week is rolling out a number of enhancements within its retail stores to more efficiently address customer interest in its Mac line of personal computers, including a new alert system dubbed "Rhonda."

The move comes just days before the Cupertino, Calif.-based company will jump start the holiday shopping season with a massive "Black Friday" one-day shopping event at both its national retail chain and online store.

Help, help me Rhonda

Among the many enhancements is a new software assistant called "Rhonda" — reportedly inspired by the Beach Boy's hit track "Help Me, Rhonda" — that will be installed on the desktop of all Mac computers on display at Apple retail stores.

While exploring a Mac on display, customers will be able to click on a portion of screen to summons help from an authorized Apple sales person on the retail store floor. The Rhonda software will illuminate the Mac's display screen in bright green, attracting the attention of the nearest Mac specialist who will then greet the shopper.

Two-minute Test Drive

Alongside Rhonda, Apple is also introducing a new retail process called a "Two-minute Test Drive." The concise overview will help facilitate to potential Mac customers the many strong points of the Mac platform, including such aspects as a quick Microsoft Word demo.

Talk Mac

Lastly, Apple this week will begin offering potential Mac buyers a new complimentary service called "Talk Mac."

Essentially an extension of the the company's ProCare services, but for non-Mac users, Talk Mac offers shoppers the opportunity to schedule up to a one hour appointment with an in-store Mac specialist to learn about the Mac platform before making their computer purchases.

Customers interested in the service can simply swing by their local Apple retail store and request a Talk Mac card that will allow them to schedule the free consultation.

Expanding on Talk Mac in early 2007

Taking Talk Mac a step further, Apple early next year will extend upon the concept by allowing customers to schedule a one-on-one appointment with a Mac specialist before the store even opens for business, people familiar with the service say.

The Mac specialist will act as the customer's 'personal shopper,' touring the traffic-free retail store, answering questions and offering buying advice to meet the customer's needs, those same people say.