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Thursday, February 17, 2011, 04:00 pm PT (07:00 pm ET)

Competitive, secretive world of Apple Store employees profiled

A rather tame accounting of the life of an Apple Store employee has detailed the kinds of customers and corporate policy that the company's retail workers cope with in their jobs.

A report by Popular Mechanics, written by a Apple retail employee, described a culture of secrecy while working with difficult customers.

"They have a really lenient attendance policy," the writer says. "You have to be late like 15 times before they'll fire you. But if you talk to the press or speculate to a customer about the next iPad? That's the end of you."

Speculating about what might be in the pipeline is so dangerous that the writer says employees play dumb and sometimes work to remain ignorant. "I am asked five times per day about the next iPad or iPhone, and I quite simply don't know. But I would be in huge trouble if I said something like 'The next iPad is going to have a camera.'

"I actually avoid the technology section of the newspaper so I have no points of view to accidentally comment with or drop into conversation. I'd rather just be dumb about it."

The difficult public

"Its amazing how badly behaved some customers are," the writer said. "I have seen customers have complete meltdowns and get phones exchanged that were like two years old. They scream, cry, curse. And it works. People can be horrible. Sometimes it's like working at McDonald's, with better pay. I've never been treated so badly in my life."

Other customer hazards include drug dealers trying to set up a phone account using phony IDs, fake credit cards or a false Social Security number. Call them out on that, the writer said, and they run.

Chinese resellers trying to negotiate deals on iPads, random people who just visit to use the computers, and shoplifters were also noted, requiring undercover security guards who are "paid really well" to "deal with people doing things like wheeling in strollers and trying to use them to roll off with Time Capsules and iPods."

Sales push

Apple Store employees aren't paid commissions, but they are tracked for sales performance. "If you aren't doing very well, you start getting manager meetings, and they sit you down and try to figure out why you aren't selling more."

One metric is the attachment rate, measuring how many copies of AppleCare and MobileMe an employee sells compared to the amount of hardware transactions they complete.

"We're supposed to sell AppleCare product support with just about everything, and honestly, those aren't that hard to sell, since they aren't a bad deal. But we're also supposed to push MobileMe, and that's really hard to sell. Nobody ever sells it," the employee said.

For better or worse

Along with other comments made in the report, the employee's remarks were tame compared to the anonymous complaint blog CrApple Store, which details horror stories of terrible customers and often portrays store managers as inept.

At the same time, one reader commenting on the story wrote, "I read some of the crapplestore posts and, honestly, that just wasn't my experience at all. I'm guessing that the store managers make a huge difference, but I worked in one of the Chicago stores and was truly impressed with how well the store was run and the high quality of the employees and managers. I'd worked in Magnolia Home Theater at Best Buy prior to the Apple Store, and the difference between the two was night and day."