Technology

Before Bashing Big Tech, Politicians Should Visit an Apple Store

One of the best ways to succeed long-term in capitalism is by treating customers well rather than ripping them off. That's something you won't hear Democrats or Republicans admit these days.

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Apple has built one of the most valuable companies in the world in part by telling customers not to buy its products and not to shop in its stores.

That was the insight I gleaned after stopping in to an Apple store recently. I was looking for a computer to replace the nine-year-old MacBook Pro on which I am writing this column. I was also considering getting a new phone and passing my three-year-old iPhone SE along to a family member.

I left without a new computer or a new phone, but with a valuable lesson—one that you wouldn't necessarily learn if you spent your time listening to the presidential candidates bashing technology companies. One of the best ways to succeed long-term in capitalism is by treating customers well rather than ripping them off.

I was eyeing one of the desktop computers with an integrated Apple screen, Apple keyboard, and Apple mouse that would have cost more than $1,000 altogether. But the employee at the Apple store advised me I'd be better off just getting a cheaper "Mac mini" and buying the mouse, monitor, and keyboard somewhere else. On the phone question, he said I should go to a Verizon store—it had better deals.

Maybe I was dealing with a rogue employee, but I doubt it. These retail employees and encounters are closely monitored and supervised. Maybe he was pushing me through a route that was more profitable for Apple, in which case, good for Apple for putting its shareholders first by prioritizing profits rather than gross sales.

What I think was happening, though, is that Apple, like many successful retailers, has figured out that it isn't just in the business of selling customers products. It's in the business of helping customers solve problems. Giving a customer good advice may mean that in the short term the company may generate less gross sales. But in the long term, that advice generates good will and loyalty and trust. Those intangibles are difficult to quantify, but they are worth a lot. One reason people are willing to pay more for Apple phones or computers than for competing products is the knowledge that you can show up in a store and deal with an employee who can see things from the customer's point of view.

Capitalism, in other words, isn't all casinos, gun manufacturers, and alcohol and tobacco companies. People often associate business with vice—greed to make money in a zero-sum framework at the customer's expense. And sure, there are some immoral capitalists, just like there are immoral socialists and immoral nonprofit executives. But at its best, capitalism reinforces virtue. The business owner's profit motive isn't inalterably opposed to the customer's interests; sometimes, it's well aligned with them.

As business advice, putting the customer first can be a cliché, the sort of thing you see on a needlepoint pillow or wall poster in the office of a small business. Apple is a big enough company with enough employees, products, and policies that plenty of customers, including me, sometimes experience exasperation with it as much as we experience a pleasant surprise.

But such surprises do happen, and not just at Apple stores. I've got an auto mechanic I like who sometimes, when I bring in the car needing repair for a minor matter, just does it for me free of charge. He's not doing it for me out of sheer kindness, I think. He's doing it because it makes me feel better about the times I go in there and drop $1,000. It's part of the relationship.

Business, like much of the rest of life, is a lot about human relationships. Apple has a great website and probably has the capability to answer customer questions over an app. But sometimes when you have questions you just want to go into a store and get advice face-to-face from a live person. Sometimes the person does help. It's in the company's best interest and the customer's.

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  1. Capitalism, in other words, isn’t all casinos, gun manufacturers, and alcohol and tobacco companies.

    Don’t forget the hookers and blow.

    1. I will point out that Alcohol manufacturers, Cigar companies, and Gun manufacturers at the small end of their respective scales all have long records of being very engaged with their customers and attentive to their consumer’s wants. Sometimes even the Big Boys. All three industries have active consumer subcultures, which probably has something to do with it.

      I do know that a gun manufacturer who ignores customer reaction quickly gets a reputation as being bad news along the shooter grapevine.

  2. One reason people are willing to pay more for Apple phones or computers than for competing products is the knowledge that you can show up in a store and deal with an employee who can see things from the customer’s point of view.

    GO BE AN APPLE FANBOY SOMEWHERE ELSE. Android forever!

    1. Be careful, the iArmy is Legion.

      1. You thought the Hihnwars were bad…

  3. Interesting article. Yet I wonder why a techno wizard apple loaded journalist went into a brick and mortar store in the first place.
    I mean after all, Amazon Prime days were approaching and all that

    1. +100

  4. Cooperating with government Deep State bureaucrats to install back doors in gadget software, having unremovable batteries in cell phones to turn them into constant spying devices, lying to customers about how secure the gadgets are not, and using forced updates to install spyware on target computers is NOT cheap.

    1. Don’t forget about suing private workers and business out of existence for repairing your *customers’* broken products and/or freely offering advice on product design and repair.

  5. Honestly, any sucker that’s dangling off the Apple hook has no place telling anyone about good economic decisions.

    Because they clearly couldn’t recognize one if it slapped them in the face.

  6. “One of the best ways to succeed long-term in capitalism is by treating customers well rather than ripping them off.”

    Does “treating customers well” include stalking your customers, listening in on their private conversations, and selling their personal information? If so, I’d prefer to be treated a little more poorly.

    1. Reason’s “but muh private corporations” nonsense is tiresome.

      Anything run by people is fallible. Anything.

      Reason — why not support free markets instead of sucking the cock of large corporations?

      1. Poor damikesc. Just last week, he was walling by the Apple store and two thugs forced him inside and made him buy something!
        Victimhood is just so much fun!

        1. Apple gets benefits from the government protecting their IP and the like.

          I don’t get how it is “libertarian” to be pro-monopolies, but hey, YMMV.

          Don’t worry, when you’re silenced, I will stick think it will suck. I will just have already been silenced by your precious private corporations who can do no wrong.

    2. Does “treating customers well” include stalking your customers, listening in on their private conversations, and selling their personal information? If so, I’d prefer to be treated a little more poorly.

      You haven’t even talked about the walled garden of hardware, software, *and* service/repair. Not to mention the fraud and rampant litigiousness that goes hand in hand with creating and enforcing them.

      To be fair, I barely take any of Reason’s advice on being a libertarian, let alone running a company, winning an election, or running the country. I’m only modestly surprised that they didn’t choose a company like Huawei.

  7. Maybe he was pushing me through a route that was more profitable for Apple, in which case, good for Apple for putting its shareholders first by prioritizing profits rather than gross sales.

    What business(es) has Ira run? Because this sounds like a bit of “Selling each unit at a loss but making it up on volume!”

    1. Wouldn’t have figured “ripping folks off” was a sound business strategy, but libertarianism is an odd beast apparently.

      Apple wants to be “woke”. Time for them to live up to that.

  8. Is Tim Woke still the CEO?

  9. People do business with you because they know you, they like you and they trust you. This story demonstrates how Apple works to gain a customer’s trust.

    One reason people like Apple products is the availability of high quality walk-in service and support.

  10. Not surprising you had a good experience at an Apple location.
    Anyone selling big-ticket items and at-risk of getting its brand slammed on twitter is likely to value the customer experience over the short-term revenue.
    Unfortunately, a small-time repair shop tried to rip-off a friend last week on some Mac services. I had to intervene to set things right. They didn’t have a reputation to lose.
    Sometimes the capitalist systems has good benefits. And sometimes it doesn’t.

  11. “One of the best ways to succeed long-term in capitalism is by treating customers well rather than ripping them off. ”

    As opposed to socialism who treat the masses like yesterday’s shit and rip them off anyway on a daily basis.

  12. Apple is literally the single most litigious company on the planet. Far from an example of the free market, they routinely use their massive bankroll to drag out frivolous lawsuits against their would be competition until the court and lawer fees put them in bankruptcy. It’s totally corrupt! Reason should be putting their money where their mouths are by supporting the Heyakian emergent order of open source software. It’s not even hard anymore, just use an Android phone for a start. It’s good enough for 88% of global smartphone users, I swear, it’s not a bad system). Even Chromebooks are outselling macs now; linux is totally mainstream, and I promise you don’t have to have a computer science degree.

  13. Valuable information, I have already been searching for several times but this one is the correct one! You have just received one shared! OLA TV

  14. They all just want are money, Simple as that really, they don’t give a dam really as long as they get your cash.

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