Apple retail employees cheering ahead of third-generation iPad launch (SJMN)

Over the weekend, The New York Times profiled Apple’s retail operations and controversially touched upon Apple’s retail employees. The profile put out a simple, yet controversial, statement about the wages given to those who act as ushers for turning people into new Apple customers and product advocates:

About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year. They work inside the world’s fastest growing industry, for the most valuable company, run by one of the country’s most richly compensated chief executives, Tim Cook. Last year, he received stock grants, which vest over a 10-year period, that at today’s share price would be worth more than $570 million.

The NYT goes on to say that each employee, while making an average of $25,000 a year, nets Apple approximately $473,000 per year. With the profile and the above statements in mind, we polled several current and some former Apple retail employees about their thoughts on the profile. We provided a few guiding questions that many of the employees used to compile their answers. Some employees defend the NYT’s article, and some completely disagree. The breakdown of feelings towards Apple Retail is interesting.

Some of these questions include: how has your general Apple retail experience been? Has it improved your life? Do you think that working for Apple in retail will better your future? What are your specific responses to the article’s controversial claims? What are your thoughts on the NYT’s statement about employees making a very small percentage of the amount of money that they actually bring in for Apple?

As you will read, some responses defend and agree with the New York Times, and some reflect it by praising Apple and the opportunities that the company has provided them. The common theme, though, is that many (not all, some completely agree with the NYT) employees seem to agree that Apple retail has provided them with incredible benefits and opportunities that set it apart (positively) from any other retail organization.

At the regularly scheduled quarterly store meetings last night, Apple managers defended Apple and pointed out how important every retail employee is to the company. Managers were instructed to show employees this Fortune list proclaiming Apple as the number 1 most admired company.

We’ve compiled some of the answers (with no edits) after the break, and it is an amazing and sometimes intense read. The answers are broken down into a question/answer section and a long-form reflection section. 

Describe your general Apple retail experience?

  • Response 1: I’ve been with Apple a little over 2 years. It’s been a hell of a ride. I wouldn’t trade it for any other retail job. I’ve had an overall good experience so far, but I’ve been left wanting more. I have learned some valuable people skills and met the most incredible people (both customers and coworkers). My pay isn’t great, compared to other retail jobs in the area (according to glassdoor). We should definitely be paid more than what we are now. The Internet/Blogs/Everyone-else-IRL don’t realize the high level of stress Apple retail employees go through on a daily basis, hence the reason why we should be paid the highest amongst all retail employees.
  • Response 2: My first year at Apple has been a great experience for me. The way things have been done this first year is like no other. From having fun activities with colleagues as meetings to just overall having fun coming to work.
  • Response 3 (Joe Alfano, former employee): No matter where you work, there’s ups and downs. The 4.5 years I worked for Apple retail was overall positive. Best experience was getting flown across the country to work at Macworld on Apple’s behalf. All expenses paid. It’s experiences like this that don’t get factored in to wages, so they are easily overlooked. For that week and a half I wasn’t worried about my hourly wages, I was having the time of my life, on Apple’s dollar.

How has working at Apple retail improved your life?

  • Response 1: I’d say so. It’s made me aware of what I want to do for the rest of my life and what I DON’T want to do for the rest of my life. If for anything I’ve met some interesting people, made good friends, and saved literally $100s if not $1000s from buying Apple products with discounts. You want to meet the most influential people? Go to an Apple Store. Tons of my co-workers are very bright. Our customers? Extremely friendly people who are mostly nice and kind to us.
  • Response 2: My Apple Retail experience is fun, challenging, and emotionally and mentally rewarding; I’ve been here a few years now, so this isn’t just honeymoon talk. You certainly grow as a professional, as you might with any job, but, if you really buy into everything, you also change as a person. The way I interact with people, from waiters, to my girlfriend, has changed drastically since my employment with Apple began. Apple truly does things differently. Their focus is on people, and experience—it shows. Having this job, for someone like me, who has always been a fan of the company, has been awesome. Even on the busiest days, working next to some people who represent Apple extremely poorly, I don’t regret the time I have spent or will spend with the company, because every day I have the privilege of seeing into the eyes of other people who are grateful for the help that I gave them—help I would not have been able to provide if I worked somewhere else.
  • Response 3 (Joe Alfano, former employee): Absolutely. I’ve met the most impactful people of my life while working for Apple and formed many on going friendships. Apple provides its employees with many life skills that can be used anywhere. One of the trainings I’ve attended was on par with a Master’s level Communication course. From dealing with escalated issues, facilitating group trainings, and everything in between, Apple provided skills I continue to use daily.
  • Response 4: My Apple Retail experience seems to match that of everyone else’s; happy as a kid in a candy store to be granted the opportunity to work for your favorite company. However, once the retail sense and tremendous workload and under appreciation kick in, the veil is lifted. However, I learned customer service skills from working with Apple, that are unparalleled anywhere else.
  • Response 5: Working at Apple has brought me friends that I would not otherwise have known and networking abilities not otherwise made possible. Working there has strengthened my resume, my knowledge of the industry and my ability to communicate to customers. However, I have also been shown that retail is retail, no matter where you are.

Will it better your future?

  • Response 1: I’m not sure yet. I’ve had several interviews within the IT industry all because they loved that I had Apple on my resume, which has helped (since I don’t have a degree in anything close to CompSci/IT). I haven’t been able to live as wildly as I expected, but I’m hopeful that the experience will catapult me into another field/career.
  • Response 2: I’m sure it’ll better my future by allowing me to move into other fields of tech if I choose. Having Apple on my resume will help me in the long run, because Apple is on a tear right now and me working here could have already opened the door for a better job in the future.
  • Response 3: Even though my future will not directly involve Apple, and certainly not any form of retail, my experiences here will definitely help me as I move forward into entrepreneurship. They will help me interact with people more effectively, and understand the importance of design and customer experience better. They will help me see value in doing things the right way, even when it costs more money.

Do you agree with The NYT’s article?

  • Response 1: To a certain extent. A lot of people are burnt out. They’re pushing our limits a lot, which develops us as employees, but causes burnout quickly amongst most when not compensated enough. I don’t mind the work at all, but honestly, the pay isn’t that great as a mid-20s-year-old. It was a great job to get as a 22-year old single guy in college, but now that I’m close to 25 and engaged, the pay raises haven’t been sufficient to provide for cost of living or inflation throughout the years. Everything else (benefits, discounts, stock-plan) have been amazing.
  • Response 2: We live in America. If you’re not rich you are making someone else rich. Making Apple much more money than they pay me means nothing to me. It pays my bills and the end of the day that’s what matters.  I worked at another high-profile technology company which also made a lots of money. And I was making less than what I’m making at Apple. So I’m in a better situation now.
  • Response 3 (Joe Alfano, former employee): There were very few times that I remember where I had to convince someone to purchase a Mac. Their money was spent before they walked in the door. The real work came when we had to overcome objections to AppleCare and .Mac.

Some Apple retail employees also chose to free-write their own reflection on their time at Apple and on the New York Times article:

  • Response 1: Do I agree with the NY Times article? Meh. Sure, we do more work than we’re given credit for. But I don’t work here to get credit. I’m here to do my job well, and to represent the brand as best I can.As far as all of the gripes concerning inequitable compensation, I see, and understand, both sides. Do I feel I deserve more money based on the quality of work I put out on a daily basis compared to compensation levels of comparable jobs? Absolutely, especially relative to my peers. I started at $12.50 when I was hired as a Specialist, and now make less than $2 more than that 2-3 years later. Do people talk about wanting more money behind closed doors? Sure. I think we once calculated that Apple could give each of its retail employees $100,000 and not make a dent in its cash pile.But none of that matters. The fact is, people everywhere are dissatisfied with their wages. Apple is just more newsworthy because they make more money than everyone else. Look at other companies’ earnings vs. proportionate compensation per employee, and see if you don’t see more or less the same story. If someone leaves Apple because they wanted a bigger portion of the $475,000 they bring in each year, another eager, hard-working individual will be right behind them to replace them.I think the $25,000/year earnings figure is a crap statistic. A great deal of the people working in our retail stores are part-time, still going to school, often times still living with their parents. Our full-time employees get paid pretty well. I made $36,000 last year, and I’ve only been here a couple years. If you include the value of stocks available to me during that time, that figure jumps about $8,000/year. Another full-time employee, (full-time sales, not Genius, Creative, or manager,) just bought a house! Would more money be welcome? Always. Are people at Apple struggling for cash? Not necessarily. As far as Geniuses in particular saying they’re overworked, I think they’re being their typical high-horse selfish selves. Them servicing more devices means Specialists and Experts are selling and setting up more devices, which means Creatives are training more people, which means BOH members are unboxing and accounting for more devices. We are one team. Geniuses seem to think they are a bigger link in the chain than everyone else. Additionally, the most these folks are asked to work is 40-45 hours-week. Overtime is entirely up to the individual. So are breaks. If you don’t take your breaks, it’s because you didn’t communicate with your leaders in the store. If it’s time for your break, they’ll make sure you’re covered at the Genius Bar, or will find some way to help the Genius Bar get caught up.And people fresh out of colleges disappointed with their earnings? Stop whining. If you thought you were worth more because of your hard-earned college degree, maybe you shouldn’t have applied for a sales position at a retail store.Regarding people who feel their isn’t enough of a springboard from Apple Retail into bigger and better positions, work harder towards where you want to go. You can’t expect the breadth of experience within a retail position to be great enough to qualify you to work at corporate campuses anywhere, really. Develop your skills outside of work.
  • Response 2: I’ve been with Apple Retail for a few years. In that time, I’ve come to love the products, respect the culture, but loathe management.  Apple Retail is not an innovative retail career as touted, but rather the culmination of a decade of Jobsian style reality distortion with promises of empowerment, upward mobility, and increasing pay.  In reality, we’re all just a bunch of underpaid computer salesman and technicians who wear t-shirts to work while taking orders from kool-aid drinking idiots who make stupid videos of themselves after they’ve done their makeup just to let us know how many Macs we sold last week.For a college student, working for Apple has made my life great: I’ve established a 401(k), saved thousands of dollars, and paid for trips all over the country.  For some of my co-workers, however, those 30+ with spouses and children, the experience is less than fulfilling.As far as the pay goes, I realize we make a considerable amount more than others in retail or with similar skills.  Though, considering that an Apple Store is not a place of cheap products and poor service, (which likely describes majority of retail) we’re not paid enough.  These raises might change some of that, I make over $17.00/hr, so I suppose that’s worth something.  In regards to earning the company half a million dollars a year, I think a lot of times specialists forget that Apple had to train us, build us an entire infrastructure that allows us to process orders on the floor without having to rely on a cash wrap, and pay the rent on all their stores.  All things considered, the pay isn’t horrible, but it could be better.The thing I’m sure most people don’t understand though (especially after reading the NYT article) is why we don’t quit.  It’s pretty simple: Apple Retail has the potential to be amazing.  It really does, and if even this lowly Specialist can see that, surely my fellows agree.  But Apple continues to put the worst people in management: short-sighted, irresponsible, lazy a-holes with a power trip.  We all know that if the right people were in place, Apple Retail would be the best place in the mall to work.  I suppose we’re all just waiting for a messiah.
  • Response 3: Apple is often called a “legendary gathering place”, and Apple users mostly consider themselves part of the Apple family. People gravitate towards the bright lights and glossy displays in Apple’s retail stores around the world. I can tell you first hand there is nothing like putting that blue shirt on and the lanyard with your name on it and watching the droves of eager customers walk into the store. Selling the Apple products doesn’t feel like a job, it feels like a public service. You are educating people everyday and changing the lives of every single person who walks out with a white bag. I would have taken the job if they told me I was going to be making minimum wage. Being a college student you don’t get many double digit wage opportunities if any. Mind you this was before I even heard about the benefits, discounts, freebies, and stock options. Getting a job at Apple is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Period. Not only am I making money to put myself through school but I have a sparkling diamond on my resume for the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter that my position is retail, it’s APPLE, the biggest name in tech. I will be forever grateful for the people that saw the potential in me as an integral part of the best retail staff in the world. Oh and the 23% raise I got was awesome too. I probably won’t be an Apple employee for the rest of my life, but I know all always be part of the Apple family.
  • Response 4 (Danny Ocean, former employee): My Apple retail experience was overall positive. I can certainly relate to parts of the article outlining some of the frustrations of Apple employees.  Over the past 2-3 years, many stores are asking their staffed to do more with less and it has a distinct negative impact on employee moral and customer satisfaction.  Geniuses are taking 2-3 customers at once while other customers are shouting questions / demands at the genius.  It became a very stressful work environment.  The only way to move up in Apple retail is to do well selling “attachments” (AppleCare, One to One).  Managers are fixated on attachment rates for individuals and the store, which resulted in specialists selling them at inappropriate times just to keep management happy. Having Apple on your resume, even retail, is a great launching point in future interviews.  All employers know the Apple name and admire it for their business success and customer satisfaction levels. I have mixed feelings on the non-commission structure for Apple specialists and experts.  It’s great in theory because the employees are motivated to find the customer the best possible solution for their needs, not the most expensive.  But in my case, I was on the business team and our goal was to create business relationships and revenue.  During my 1.5 years on the business team, our weekly revenue goal tripped, but my pay stayed that same.  I feel as though I should have been compensated more closely to the team’s performance and goals.
  • Response 5 (former employee): My experience with Apple Retail was mixed. It  was certainly a great experience to work for a company with a bullseye on its back every day; you constantly had to be on your A-Game to deal with the amount of traffic that Apple Stores get. I learned more in my short time at Apple about how to handle customers the right way and have a fanatical attention to detail than I have at every other job combined.That being said, Apple Retail is so disconnected from “Apple, Inc.” that it’s almost comical. There’s still the attention to detail that Apple is known for, but the “thinking outside the box” that Apple, Inc. prides itself on is non-existent on the Retail side. It’s a very top-down directed organization – that is, front line specialists and experts are rarely allowed to be creative and come up with new solutions to problems in the store. It operates just like any other retail establishment: long hours, crappy pay, tons of bureaucracy…the only difference is the amount of polish Apple puts on the front end and the fact that most employees truly love the products they sell. As far as compensation goes, that was a huge complaint from a lot of people that work inside the company (maybe that’s different now that they just got such large raises). It was extremely frustrating for people who excelled at their jobs, specifically. For an employee who sells $2 million in revenue a year to make barely more than someone that struggles to sign in to their EasyPay was mind-blowing. It would really hit home when managers would try to push numbers hard around the end of the month or the end of the quarter; there’s no performance incentive for me to do it, but there is a large financial incentive for them to make sure that store hits.By the time I left, around the 4S launch, it truly felt like Apple Retail was starting to lose its way. Apple Stores became known for unbelievable customer service and a crazy focus on the experience. The last four years has been a slow march backwards on that, though. The crush of iOS users coming into the store has led to a harder focus on pure numbers in order to be efficient, which kills the ability of employees to give customers a kick-ass experience. It’s extremely difficult to move up inside the company, as more and more managers are recruited from outside instead of being groomed from the ranks of employees who already believe in the company.Overall, the NYT article seemed fair, even if some things were played up to get page views. Bottom line, when you remove the polish they put on, Apple Retail is just like any other retailer. Some things are great, but there are a lot of warts, too.
  • Response 6 (this one is very deep): Having just sat in on my 10th quarterly meeting at Apple, and coming off of a scathing column by the New York Times, I wanted to give a few responses from a current employee with the company. While the column paints a somewhat dark picture of the retail side of the company, I know that what I do for customers can be a good thing and can truly ‘enrich lives’. That being said, I can side with everything the column said and can truly relate to points it made.  At times I do feel like I am being taken advantage of while being asked to perform more duties and take on more responsibility.  Do most companies want this from their employees?  Probably.  Is it always fair?  No.  Apple is in a unique position in that they have gone from having no retail presence 11 years ago to making over $16 billion dollars a year just in store front profit. Steve Jobs wasn’t an idiot who knew throwing money at everyone all the time was the way to get ahead.  From his first money making venture with Atari, he still managed to screw his friend Steve Wozniak out of some profit. The retail side of the company is a tiny version of the message he stood for. Make other people do the hard labor while you collect the profits. This is the overall message of any business class you take in college, but we notice more because we are talking about billions of dollars in profits. This being said, it doesn’t make it feel great knowing you helped sell millions of dollars and are still having trouble paying rent.  There are times when I will sell more in one day than I make in an entire year.  Is this Apple’s fault?  Is this a problem with the middle class of America?  Is this a problem with peoples obsession to own the newest and best of toys?  You can ponder these questions until you areblue in the face.  I agreed to work for this company at a salary that they offered.  Do I think I deserve to be paid more because of the amount of work and stress I go through on a daily basis?  Absolutely. Who doesn’t think that at their jobs?  It’s different because I sell very expensive things and my total earnings per square foot is larger than any other company. It felt ironic that after this article came out in the NYT, our quarterly meeting was all about how great it is to be an Apple employee and how much good we do for people.  Almost like they were trying to remind us that there is more than money to be made by our experiences.  That’s easy to say when you don’t have to worry about how you are going to pay your bills.  I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my team leader about this very topic over a year ago.  I was a little down because I felt I was doing so much for the store and not seeing any sort of financial benefits or promotions coming my way. He straight looked at me in the face and said ‘you have to remember, this is a retail job.  Nothing more, nothing less’.  This is why my desire to go any further with this company has been sucked right out of me.  Once the allure of being clapped in on your first day has faded, after your first million is sold and your first product launch has ended, you start to realize that walking out to the sales floor at Apple is no different than standing behind a counter and asking ‘Would you like fries with that?’
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