Shoppers are complaining that Apple Stores have become a 'hell on earth' like the DMV — and it's a growing crisis for the tech giant

  • Customers can't stop complaining about Apple Stores.
  • Long wait times, overcrowding, and awkward customer-service interactions are turning shoppers against Apple.
  • Apple is redesigning stores as customers compare current locations to the dreaded DMV.

Apple Stores have become an almost mythical part of the tech giant's brand. Now, they could be killing it.

Founder Steve Jobs wanted Apple's stores to be different from those of traditional retailers, setting Apple apart from competitors with stylish, minimalist aesthetics. Apple Stores have specific, strict rules — from how employees interact to the exact angle of laptops — designed to create the perfect experience that transcends shopping.

For years, the investment has paid off.

In 2017, eMarketer and CoStar data showed that Apple Stores make a whopping $5,546 per square foot. That puts the retailer in the No. 1 spot across the retail industry — though that figure has declined since 2012, when the research firms reported that Apple averaged $6,050 per square foot in sales.

But, if you've visited an Apple Store recently, you may have found that you weren't visiting a magical tech utopia after all. Many customers are now comparing their Apple Store experiences to those they've had at a different place: the dreaded DMV.

'Hell on earth'

Screen Shot 2018 03 13 at 3.34.59 PMTwitter TheOnlyDJQuallsA recent trip to a New York City Apple Store by Business Insider's Avery Hartmans revealed a chaotic, hellish mess.

The store was packed with people. It was unclear which employees were available to help and which were otherwise occupied. Without a reservation, it was nearly impossible to get help at the Genius Bar. To make matters worse, it could be days before there was an open reservation.

This isn't an isolated issue. Social media has been flooded with complaints about Apple Stores in recent months.

"Does anyone really enjoy going to the apple store anymore?" reads a recent one-star review of a Boston Apple Store.

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Customers aren't the only ones who have noticed the problem.

Employees told Business Insider's Kif Leswing in November 2017 that overcrowding was a huge concern and that Apple's existing customer service model simply wasn't functional anymore.

"We haven't been able to keep up with traffic since I started 8 years ago," a senior Genius at a small store in the Midwest told Business Insider. "I wouldn't even walk in the store because of how crowded it gets. During Christmas [season] you can hardly move."

Apple Stores are doomed by their success

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Customers' top complaints are focused on crowds and wait times, which can last for hours. Simply put, too many people need assistance at Apple Stores — and employees don't have the time to help everyone immediately.

"Came to the store today at 2:40pm to get a pair of Powerbeats looked at... put my name on the list," one Yelp review of a San Francisco Apple Store reads.

The review continues: "Got a text at 3:30 saying they were almost ready for me. It's now almost 5pm and I finally went up to the manager or at least the guy taking names and told them I had gotten a text well over an hour ago. He told me 'sorry,' I had 'slipped through the cracks' and they lost my reservation."

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Irritated customers tired of waiting for simple assistance tend to be less than impressed by Apple Stores' unique design. Some say they feel Apple has prioritized artistry over customers' needs.

"It's places like this that make me appreciate the DMV," reads a review of a Los Angeles Apple Store, written by a customer who complained Apple focused on style over substance.

"I know Apple envisions having a store where customers can flow in and out — or congregate, like in a 'town square' — but sometimes it's just easier to stand in a line," Hartmans wrote after a trip to an Apple Store in January."At least from a customer's standpoint, you know where you need to be."

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For a brand that treasures image and aesthetics, this could be a deadly problem. 

RELATED: Check out how much your old Apple products may be worth: 

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Cost of Apple products through the years
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Cost of Apple products through the years

Apple II (1977)

Cost Then: $1,298
Cost Now: $5,333

Compared to 1976's Apple I, the Apple II was a revelation. While the first Apple lacked a monitor, separate keyboard or casing, the Apple II included the whole package, complete with the introduction of five-color on-screen graphics.

Adjusted for inflation, you could buy a used car for what the Apple II costs, but its price tag had brought the budding company $7.8 million in sales by 1978 — about $30 million in today's money.

Macintosh (1984)

Cost Then: $2,495
Cost Now: $6,036

This is when the world started calling Apples "Macs."

Though dropping six grand on a computer today is cringe-worthy, the original Macintosh was considered the first relatively affordable computer with a graphical interface at the time. Its specs included a whopping 128 KB of RAM, 400 KB of storage, a floppy disk drive and a 9-inch monochrome display.

LaserWriter (1985)

Cost Then: $6,995
Cost Now: $16,207

Apple no longer makes printers, but the LaserWriter was a huge initiative at the time. Its professional print quality aimed for the business market, and it was the first network-capable printer.

It also introduced the world to Adobe Systems, which provided the PostScript programming language that powered the machine. If the original price looked scary, it was, so Apple dropped it to $5,000 by fall 1986.

Newton (1993)

Cost Then: $700
Cost Now: $1,192

Developed while legendary Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs was away from the company, and famously derided by him, the tablet-like touchscreen Newton paved the way for the success of the PDA, and later, the iPad. This small, hand-held product didn't catch on at the time, but it played a role in inspiring today's "all-in-one" device design, and even featured ahead-of-its-time handwriting recognition capabilities.

Power Macintosh (1994)

Cost Then: $2,600
Cost Now: $4,282

The closest modern equivalent of the Power Mac, the Mac Pro, starts at $2,999. Of course, its specs are just a little different.

While the original Power Macintosh — which was sold as the Macintosh Performa 6110CD for home use — sported a 60 MHz PowerPC 601 processor, the Pro rocks a 3.5GHz, 6-core Intel Xeon E5 processor and its 8 MB of RAM are dwarfed by the Mac Pro's 16 GB of RAM.

iMac G3 (1998)

Cost Then: $1,299
Cost Now: $1,967

The introduction of the iMac in 1998 marked the first time Apple used its much-imitated "i" branding. At the time, the "i" in "iMac" stood for "internet," as the all-in-one desktop computer featured a built-in modem, which was uncommon when it launched. The first model came in a blue-green hue, called "bondi blue and ice" by Apple, but it later was available in a rainbow of colors. It marked the first major Apple work by iconic designer Jony Ive.

The iMac line looks a lot different — and less colorful — today, but it's still kicking, with 21.5-inch models starting at $1,099.

Final Cut Pro (1999)

Cost Then: Starting at $300
Cost Now: $450

With so much focus on slick hardware, it's easy to overlook the fact that Apple is a software company, too — unless you're a filmmaker who just dropped $300 on Final Cut Pro, that is.

The pitch remains the same today as it was in 1999: For one price, you get editing, compositing and effects in one professional software package. Apple positioned Final Cut as a "post-production studio in a box," though the philosophy changed a bit as numerous software expansions continued to add features.

AirPort (1999)

Cost Then: $299
Cost Now: $442

AirPort started with multiple offerings, and the tradition continues. Introduced as a wireless networking solution for 802.11b connections, the AirPort Base Station looked like a tiny UFO, but you always could opt for an AirPort card to add wireless functionality to your Mac.

Today, you can get AirPort models spanning from the Express to the 3TB Time Capsule, ranging from $99 to $399.

Power Mac G4 Cube (2000)

Cost Then: $1,799
Cost Now: $2,567

The Power Mac G4 Cube's beautiful design couldn't offset the high price tag, which, consequently, led to its marketplace struggles.

By 2001, its entry-level price had been slashed to $1,299. The cube-shaped brains of the box live today in the form of the Mac Mini series, however. Though the Mini doesn't include a monitor, keyboard or speakers like the G4 Cube, it starts at a much more reasonable $499.

iPod (2001)

Cost Then: Starting at $399
Cost Now: Starting at $554

From 2001 to 2011, Apple sold 300 million iPods. Though the idea of a dedicated MP3 player seems outdated today, the at-the-time appeal of carrying 1,000 songs on the original, scroll-wheel-equipped model's 5 GB hard drive cannot be overstated.

The iPod line eventually included a wide variety of models — from the Nano to the Shuffle — but Apple has since consolidated its offerings to just the iPod touch, which retails for $199 or $299, depending on storage size.

MacBook (2006)

Cost Then: $1,099
Cost Now: $1,338

Remember the early 2000s, when all the coolest tech products — from the iPod to the Wii — were glossy white? Yep, the MacBook was, too.

Starting a legacy that still thrives, the original 13-inch MacBook laptop was powered by a 1.83 GHz Intel "Core Duo" processor and featured a 13-inch widescreen display, complete with modern perks, such as a built-in iSight camera, USB ports and Bluetooth compatibility. Nowadays, an entry-level MacBook starts at a fairly comparable $1,299.

iPhone (2007)

Cost Then: Starting at $499
Cost Now: $608

Before you can sell a billion, you've got to start with one. The iPhone might not have been the first all-in-one hand-held device, but its mainstream appeal and standard feature set established the baseline for the modern smartphone. If your current device has WiFi support, Bluetooth, a camera, glass screen, accelerometer and multi-touch, you probably can thank the iPhone.

In 2018, an iPhone 8 with a 4.7-inch display will cost you $699, meaning Apple actually has raised the price in this arena.

MacBook Air (2008)

Cost Then: $1,799
Cost Now: $2,191

Originally touted for its crazy-thin dimensions, the MacBook Air eventually caught up in terms of power and completely replaced the MacBook line from 2012 to 2015. Because Apple has had a full decade to get a better handle on squeezing more power into less space, modern MacBook Air laptops come at a much lower cost — in 2018, a 13-inch MacBook Air can be had for $999.

iPad (2010)

Cost Then: Starting at $499
Cost Now: $568

Microsoft introduced the tablet format in 2000, but it was Apple that finally got the tablet to catch on in 2010. Even Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates acknowledges that Apple "did some things better than I did," noting that Apple nailed it in terms of "timing," "engineering work" and "just the package that was put together."

That slick package ended up being the biggest product launch of 2010 and went on to sell more than 350 million units, across various iPad models.

Today, Apple offers standard 32GB model iPads from $329.

iPhone 6 (2014)

Cost Then: Starting at $549
Cost Now: $569

The iPhone 6 makes the list not necessarily for its feature set, but for its groundbreaking mainstream penetration. Between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, this model has sold more than 100 million units since its introduction in 2014, making it the best-selling iPhone to date.

Perhaps due to this ubiquity, you still can get a 4.7-inch iPhone 6s, the phone's more advanced update, straight from Apple for $449.

iPhone X (2017)

Cost Then and Now: $999

Buoyed by crazy hype and endless rumors, Apple premiered the iPhone X in 2017, using its curved Super Retina screen and facial recognition features to test the waters of a high-priced, premium smartphone market.

With reports suggesting that Apple aims to halve iPhone X output in the first quarter of 2018 because of weak holiday sales, the gambit might not have paid off. But with a quarterly revenue of $88.3 billion in the fiscal quarter ending on Dec. 30, 2017, the giants from Cupertino, Calif., probably aren't sweating too much.

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Can Apple fix the Apple Store?

In 2016, Apple retail boss Angela Ahrendts told Business Insider that the company needed "to open incredible places that almost behave like a town square, like a gathering place."

"We want you to meet people at Apple," Ahrendts said. "See what's happening."

For some, Apple Stores have become a site of frustration, not community mingling. However, the company is renovating dozens of stores across the US in an effort to better achieve its "town square" goals.

These revamped stores are larger, which could help with concerns of overcrowding. They also feature a new approach to the Genius Bar with the "Genius Grove," which allows a section of the store to be focused on repairs and assistance without involving lines.

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