Working at Apple Store No Different From Other Retail Stores, Really

Not long after the class-action lawsuit was filed, a technician named Kevin Timmer who worked at the Woodland Mall store in Grand Rapids, Mich., noticed an added step when he logged onto a computer to punch out of work.

“This window popped up and it said something like, ‘By clicking this box I acknowledge that I received all my breaks,’” Mr. Timmer recalled. “The rumor was that was because some guy in California had sued.”

Mr. Timmer said he and other technicians in the store clicked the box even when they didn’t take any breaks. It wasn’t because management insisted they stick around. It was that any down time would slam already overburdened colleagues with even more work.

“We were all in the trenches together,” he said. “Nobody wanted to leave.”

Unlike salespeople who work at AT&T and Verizon, Apple employees don’t get paid on commission, and they’re usually comprised of young, college-educated recent grads who don’t mind getting paid an hourly wage that’s “better than the Gap, though slightly less than Lululemon.” But this story, which is essentially, “employees at big, successful retail company aren’t paid very well,” is just representative of what it’s like to work in retail in general. It gets 4,000 words in the Times because Apple makes a ton of money (unlike a brand like the Gap, which has been struggling in recent years), and should be a better model of how a successful retail establishment should be.

Those of us who’ve worked in retail have all been there, right? We’ve not taken our 10-minute breaks because the store is too busy, and sitting in a dingy break room in the rear of the store can be sad, and pointless. We’ve sold membership cards, or encouraged customers to sign up for terrible credit cards without receiving a commission, but did it anyway because it was part of the job. We grew increasingly frustrated and quit because most of us didn’t want a career in retail, and those of us that did wanted to be managers or to be transferred to the corporate side, not salespeople on the floor.

On our last days of work, we’d drive or walk away and think, “we’re free, we’re free, we’re free.”

Photo: Flickr/Incase

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18 Comments / Post A Comment

Worked stock at a department store once in college. My boss scheduled me to work on the day of a final and when I told him I couldn’t because I had to take the final, he warned, “You’re never gonna get anywhere in this company if you don’t get your priorities straight.”

So I got my priorities straight and never showed up again.

sweite (#1,389)

i’ve never worked retail, but why do they measure sales/sq foot? that doesn’t seem like a super useful classification to me.

ennaenirehtac (#199)

@sweite Maybe because renting store space is the biggest overhead, and real estate is measured by sq foot? So if you are renting a lot of real estate, but aren’t making a lot of sales, looking at the sales/sq foot would be a convenient shorthand for the ratio between profit and overhead (loss).

@ennaenirehtac Exactly. The other big cost is labor, but you can scale the number of workers/hours fairly linearly with demand — you could, theoretically, staff a 4,000 sq ft shop with one person, if that’s all you needed to tend to the customers. But you’d mostly likely be losing your shirt on rent.

lalaland (#437)

@sweite Also (I work in real estate) it’s a good way to measure stores on a comparable basis – maybe Store A makes $10,000 per month and Store B makes $8,000, but Store A is 10,000 SF while Store B is 5,000 SF, so Store B is actually more profitable.

Fun fact: MAC stores are SUPER profitable on a sales/SF basis.

I always find the presumption that Apple treats (or should treat) their workers any differently from any other American corporation quite funny. Especially the shock-horror when people “suddenly realize” that they don’t.

DickensianCat (#971)

ahhhh yes, memories of sitting in the dingy break room at my shoe store gig trying not to get dust from the Cheez-Its I bought from the vending machine and Mountain Dew Code Red on my khakis (I only had two or three pairs to rotate with my awful maroon, oversized polo)and wondering how 15 minutes passed so very, very quickly. I would say they are “fond” memories, but who are we kidding?

mayonegg (#1,245)

Worked at Victoria’s Secret at home one summer, transferred to the store by college in the fall. A lot more pressure to get people to sign up for Angel cards. Got “pink eye” after three days, never to return.

lalaland (#437)

@mayonegg Ha! I worked at Victoria’s Secret between high school/college. Folding the $5 for $25 (is it still that much?) underwear bin was the worst. To this day, I have not shopped again at VS because of that job.

DickensianCat (#971)

@lalaland Started out my retail days at Victoria’s Secret, and it was THE WORST. Between management ordering you to breathe down customers’ necks as soon as they enter the store, putting sensors on tiny thongs for three hours straight and then attempting to hang the “fancy” ones “THEIR” way, and never properly learning how to measure bra sizes but then realizing that they want you to lie and tell each woman she’s a size the store carries even though she’s clearly not…uggggh, awful. Repress. repress!

allreb (#502)

The introduction of (and push to get people to sign up for) Borders Rewards Cards back in the day was a huge part of why I quit my job at Borders (years before the chain went under). Everyone in the cafe got an official write up/warning/whatever it was called because the number of card signups at the cafe was low overall, even though I had one of the highest sign up rates in the store. I did not like working retail, but was very good at it.

I probably should not still be so grumpy about that after this many years.

alpacasloth (#108)

@allreb I worked at Borders for a few years in college and always resented this part of the job too. Other than that though, this was my favorite retail job. I got to spend all day looking at books, selling books, trying to find books, recommending books. Then I worked at Nordstrom for over a year and had to try to get people to apply for their credit cards. WAY worse than trying to get people to give me their email addresses so Borders can spam them once a week. And surprisingly, people applied for these credit cards! The store pays employees a couple dollars for every new credit card they open, so at least I got some coffee money out of it.

@allreb I’ve always said American capitalists could learn a lot from Maoist cadres. And lo, they have!

@allreb I used to work at Borders, too, and that Rewards Card thing was awful indeed! I felt like a used car salesman asking people to sign up for it, so I got a warning from the managers when they saw my nonexistent sign-up rate. Finally I started making up imaginary email addresses and entering those as sign-ups instead.

alpacasloth (#108)

Maybe earning commission at the Apple store would be a good deal, but my only experience with it at Nordstrom was terrible. I worked there for over a year as an hourly employee in the shoe department. Everyone kept telling me what a great salesperson I’d be, and since this was my first job after graduating college, I felt like I’d be a loser not to take the promotion. I lasted as a salesperson in the jewelry department for two months. Some people are not good at selling jewelry to other people! I was awful, it was the summer of 2008 and the recession was looming and no one was spending money on jewelry and watches. They scheduled too many people during the weekdays when we had no customers so everyone acted like vultures when one person would come by. Also being on commission at Nordstrom: when someone returns something they bought from you, you lose that commission. So while some salespeople did really well at Nordstrom, most of us were struggling. There were paychecks where I made more as an hourly cashier. I was happier working as an hourly employee because at least I knew I was getting paid the same amount every two weeks.

shannowhamo (#845)

What I don’t understand is why when I worked retail (especially at Barnes and Noble, which was the absolute worst compared to Papyrus and Aveda where I also did time) I had to stand all day, even when no one was in the store/at the cash register or information desk. But now I’m a librarian and I get to sit as much as I want but for some reason my graduate degree makes me sitting not lazy but instead classy and professional? That always made me so mad, like are people disgusted to see a cashier seated? It makes no sense, it seems cruel that they pay you less to be more uncomfortable.

mouthalmighty (#165)

The key to retail is staying the eff out of big businesses. So sayeth this (probable) retail lifer.

orejitasmiamor (#2,678)

I’ve never worked retail, but I have worked foodservice and I can agree, things are typically better outside of a big business. They both have their strong suits, but if you want to work somewhere that is not all about you being a walking advertisement for the corporation, avoid big businesses and stick to family/locally owned deals. The corporate places want you to be invested in their brand (like I really want to be invested in cheesy fried things and sugary drinks) and sell those stupid loyalty cards. On the down side, I have had a crazy manager in a locally owned business who made my time at that job absolutely miserable.

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