Former Apple retail head Angela Ahrendts upset 'finely tuned balance'

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Former Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts upset a "finely tuned balance" at the company's stores in the name of branding, a report suggested on Tuesday, with interviews with employees supposedly indicating the brand push was more important than helping customers.

A series of interviews with current and former Apple employees about the current store experience, most recently formed under the stewardship of former retail chief Angela Ahrendts, is said to blame a number of areas for supposed dissatisfaction from some consumers. A change in store culture and a slip in the quality of staff during an aggressive expansion are cited as the main reasons for the customer unhappiness.

In a move to end lineups, turn stores into luxury showrooms, and create "town squares" where people could "spend time with the brand," Ahrendts axed Genius Bars in favor of a mix of roaming Geniuses as well as Genius Groves and tables, reports Bloomberg. Checkout counters were likewise swapped with roaming clerks, which the report claims created problems, since shoppers started having trouble getting the right person's attention in speedy fashion.

Customers were increasingly encouraged to schedule pickups and appointments online, and must now check in with a clerk. Once a Genius is free, that staffer then has to track down the customer, who's likely to be wandering the store while they wait. Even then they frequently have to take a broken device into a back room, losing the personal touch that came from working at a counter in front of a client.

Ahrendts also did away with paid one-on-one training in favor of free group sessions, which while better attended can be held back by the slowest learner, several workers said.

The quality of staff allegedly declined under Ahrendts' watch, even if she didn't instigate the issue.

"Employees used to be very skilled," one worker commented. "When you came to Apple, you could walk in and talk to someone who happens to be a musician or videographer on the side, really knowledgeable. They hire really nice people now, but they are much less technical."

More critically, staffers are getting less training — while original retail head Ron Johnson saw that salespeople got three weeks to a month, that time has shrunk to about a week in most cases. Geniuses were originally trained at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino but are now usually taught in-store.

Apple has actually been shifting away from the luxury showroom motif since before Ahrendts' departure, Bloomberg observed. This includes putting up promotional stickers and posters, which can break Ahrendts' fashion-themed atmosphere.

The retail chain is now being overseen by Deirdre O'Brien, who is also retaining her role as HR chief. It's speculated that she could reverse or alter some of Ahrendts' policies, though she's had a month or less at the helm.