In the legal battle over whether Apple has denied its retail store employees their breaks, a picture is emerging of the individual store personalities in California, along with photos of the some of the chain’s largest and most amusement-filled break rooms. In written declarations by store employees, store visitors were described as “upper class,” “very demanding” and “laid back,” and employees at the Palo Alto store said they had to stay on their toes for potential visits from headquarters staff. The lawsuit by former and current California store employees was filed in 2011 and was just recently certified for class-action status. In thousands of pages of legal documents filed with the court, Apple presented the declarations of current store staffers, who swore the company rigorously follows California’s labor code to make sure each employee receives their required rest and meal breaks. In those declarations, supervisors frequently profiled their stores, and provided staffing, visitor and revenue information. In another set of documents, Apple itself provided the court with photos showing rarely-seen views of store break rooms, some equipped with healthy-food vending machines. details

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With its primary 10-year lease expired and its enclosed storefront blocking a view of the interior, the North Michigan Avenue (Chicago) store may be scheduled for replacement, according to city real estate sources. A story by Chicago Business says Apple’s real estate scouts are seeking a new location along the Magnificent Mile either to replace the existing store or to generate “leverage” in talks to extend the 10-year lease that expired last year. The two-level store opened in June 2003, and was the third high-profile store in the chain behind SoHo (NYC) and The Grove (LA). Despite the store’s age, it still sparkles architecturally: a wide glass-staircase, a roof-top training room overlooking an unusual green-roof garden, and a unique Apple-shaped cut-out in the front stone façade. The store’s location is also prime, along the city’s main shopping street. Some of the new locations scouted include 717 and 830 N. Michigan Avenue, just one and two blocks north of the existing store respectively. The story quotes former Apple store assistant manager Tony Marengo saying the store is “impressive but it’s no longer the jewel of the avenue.” Marengo now owns MacTutor Inc., a training company for Apple products. property details

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A customer of the Pioneer Place (Ore.) Apple retail store who purchased some earbuds last month has set off a debate after he posted a Facebook entry claiming a store employee entered a slur in the place of his email address, and it printed on his purchase receipt. The Facebook posting generated Tweets, and eventually the attention of the Oregon Live Web site, whose stories attracted comments representing a wide range of opinions on how the slur might have been generated. Adam Catanzarite says the email address “f@g.com” appeared in the usual location under his name on his paper copy of the receipt for the earbuds. In fact, Catanzarite says, he declined to provide an email address when asked by the Apple store employee. He left the store and paid no attention to the receipt until days later, he says. Catanzarite then contacted a manager at the store to complain, but says he received no satisfaction. He then went public with his complaint. Catanzarite identifies himself as queer, and works at the Cascade AIDS Project as an HIV prevention specialist. receipt

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A former Apple retail store employee has used his famous name to spark eBay bidding on one of his old company T-shirts and his official business card, raising $2,653 for a local charity. Bidding closed this evening for the item auctioned by Sam Sung, who worked at the Pacific Centre (Vancouver) store. There were 78 official bids on the blue logo T-shirt, a white store lanyard and Sung’s business card, all autographed under glass in a dark wood frame. Bidding originally reached $80,200 over the 10-day auction, but Sung quickly noticed that many bidders had no prior history and didn’t respond to his email requests for bid verification. He cancelled 28 bids, making the winner someone who bid within the last five hours of the auction. On the item’s eBay page, Sung said the auction proceeds will go to Children’s Wish BC/Yukon. Sung became an Internet celebrity in November 2012 when a photo of his business card appeared on-line, drawing attention to the irony of a “SamSung” working at an Apple store. photo

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In a major move to bring retail stores to another significant region of the globe, Apple has posted retail job listings for the United Arab Emirates. There is no indication of exactly where the store will open in the country, but hiring schedules predict the store is already under construction and could open by February 2015. The UAE is a country of nine million residents along the Persian Gulf, and its economy and technical sophistication rank very high on a global scale. Up to 85 percent of the country’s residents are expatriates from other countries, and it hosts millions of tourists each year, making it a perfect Apple store target. There are many potential locations for the future store in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, both with upscale, multi-level shopping malls. The job listings appeared yesterday, and include the full range of store positions from Store and Market Leader, Manager, Expert, Creative and Specialist. The listings also include the Apple Store Leader Program, a 24-month development program for those who have just graduated from higher education. The positions join those previously-posted for the region, including Facilities Manager, Business Affairs Manager and Senior Managing Producer. View the complete list of UAE job positionsUpdate: Four days after this story a middle-east blog said the store would be located at the Mall of the Emirates, and that it will be the chain’s largest. map

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The Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Police Department has arrested seven employees of an Apple and Best Buy store and charged them with stealing over $500,000 in merchandise by manipulating Apple’s product exchange procedures, allowing stolen and locked iPhones to be exchanged for refurbished ones. Six suspects were arrested yesterday and police have issued a warrant for the remaining suspect. Police say they were contacted by Apple’s loss prevention team, which had noticed an unusally high number of exchanges at the Galleria Mall store. During their investigation, police say they identified six Apple store employees who were participating in the scheme, and one employee from a Best Buy Mobile store in nearby Sunrise. According to a press release, the Apple store employees processed nearly 600 iPhone exchanges. Police have not yet identified the people who were bringing in the stolen and locked iPhones, but that Apple store employees were paid $45 to $75 for each exchange they processed, or up to $45,000 total. The criminal allegations sound similar to claims made by anonymous store employees in a series of revelations to various Web sites in December 2012. The FLPD statement did not say how long this recent fraud had been occurring. details/mug shots

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Several new job positions posted over the past two month are providing insights into Apple’s new focus on using social media to boost retail store interactions and sales, including a store event manager and world-wide loyalty manager. The new positions appear to supplement the position of Digital Marketing Director filled by former Nike-exec Musa Tariq last week, signaling the company’s expanded use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media to communicate with existing and potential customers. The Senior Event Manager is responsible for delivering, “an overarching brand story; in-store, online, via events, content marketing programs, by creating experiential marketing moments that deliver exceptional brand building experiences for our customers.” The job is also about “community,” by building and implementing “a global, targeted strategy with an emphasis on core strategic markets and introducing the brand in emerging markets,” the job description says. A second new job position is for a Program Manager – Loyalty, Global Retail Marketing. “Your role will be to design, implement, and support new learning and service strategies, and to ensure that the Apple brand is top of mind from ideation to execution,” the job description says. “With your Retail partners, you will help Apple reach its broader goals of deepening customer loyalty and fostering community.” Within the past two months Apple has also posted the new positions of Sr. Manager, People and Performance; a Manufacturing Design Engineer for Retail Displays; a Business Analyst – Point-of-Sale; and a Retail Merchandising Analyst – Accessories. Download (pdf) the full list of recent new job descriptions for more insights into Apple’s future plans, or visit Apple’s jobs Web page.

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With Silicon Valley companies facing more scrutiny from activists about their employment diversity, Apple has released figures that show the company’s employees are 70 percent male, but also that the retail stores might be providing better opportunities for women and minorities than the rest of the company. A dynamic photo of employees at the Palo Alto 2 (N. Calif.) grand opening tops the company’s diversity Web page that was published today, along with a photo of a Covent Garden (London) employee and a Tim Cook story about an inspirational employee at the West 14th Street (NYC) store. Tech firms have become a common target of activists who criticize their low representation of women and minorities, especially in executive positions. In its report, Apple doesn’t break out the retail store diversity figures directly. Instead, it provides overall race and gender figures, and for the categories of Leadership, Tech and Non-Tech. The latter category seems to include the hourly retail store employees, and it has a higher percentage of women and Blacks than the other categories, and double the percentage of Hispanic employees. Retail management employees are probably included in the Leadership figures. read more

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The advantage of having Apple as a retail store tenant has paid off enormously for the international conglomerate which just sold the Third Street Promenade (S. Calif.) store property for $100 million, a per-square-foot record for commercial real estate in the west Los Angeles region. As reported by L.A. Commercial Real Estate Advantage, last month Jordache Enterprises Inc. sold the property to Bridgton Realty, a New York state-based real estate business. Just two years earlier Jordache had purchased the land and then-Borders Books building along a pedestrian mall for $60 million, considered a premium price at the time. Two years before that, the previous owners paid just $26 million for the building. A real estate executive explained the high valuation of the store property, saying, “The sale says more about Apple than it does about the promenade. I doubt if there was the same size space next door for sale it would get close to that kind of price.” Apple prefers to demolish and build its own high-profile stores, and to then lease them from real estate investors. Apple’s solid financial position and property maintenance commitments make it a very attractive tenant for investment companies. Other store properties have been sold over the years, including Lincoln Park (Chicago) for $10 million, the current San Francisco store for $50 million, and Boylston Street (Boston) for $27.5 million.

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After depending upon the natural enthusiasm of its devoted retail store fans for 13 years, Apple has hired a former Nike executive to head a six-person digital marketing team that will build communities, manage email marketing and spotlight the stores’ event and program content. The new hire dovetails with rumors that Apple will soon market wearable technology, and with a new openness demonstrated by CEO Tim Cook during last June’s Worldwide Developer Conference. According to various sources, Musa Tariq  assumed the position of Digital Marketing Director for the retail stores this week, and will report to Angela Ahrendts, Sr. VP retail/on-line stores. Tariq previously worked at Nike in a similar role and was credited with bringing all of the company’s digital marketing in-house. Before that he worked with Ahrendts at Burberry and successfully helped develop that company’s first digital marketing initiatives. From the beginning, Apple has been historically and notoriously detached from the world of social media. Company employees are anonymous, and prohibited from creating company-related Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Web sites. Apple email addresses are considered a confidential company asset, precluding any interaction with customers. Those policies have left the company with no face or personality to create energy, attention or buzz using social media. More to the point for the retail stores, with no product discounts, celebrity endorsements, contests, big-ticket events or giveaways, Apple retail has little to fuel any social media programs Tariq’s team might devise. more

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After two and one-half years, nearly 450 court filings and thousands of pages of documents, a San Diego Superior Court judge has ruled that four former Apple retail store employees will be allowed to represent thousands of other hourly company employees in California in a lawsuit over untaken breaks, delayed final paychecks and inaccurate wage statements. The ruling on July 15th by Judge Ronald S. Prager means the plaintiffs and Apple will now begin preparing for the heart of the issues, and that the lawsuit’s eventual disposition will apply to 18,000 Apple employees in retail and other hourly positions within the state. In scores of declarations and depositions filed with the court, the plaintiffs claim that Apple’s policies and procedures for providing breaks were deficient from 2007 to 2012, while Apple has portrayed that breaks were integral to the company’s staffing procedures and have become part of the company’s culture. In over 3,700 pages of court documents reviewed by IFO, both sides are fighting hard over unpaid wages, damages, penalties and attorneys fees that could potentially cost Apple over $60 million. details

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Three months after taking the helm of Apple’s on-line and retail stores, Sr. VP Angela Ahrendts toured the New York City stores this week, and sent an email to her employees answering the most common questions she’s heard during her first contacts. “What an amazing 90 days it has been!” Ahrendts said in the email. “I sincerely am honored to be here with you on this fantastic journey.” The store visits are a continuation of her familiarization tour that began earlier this year at San Francisco area store. Ahrendts was spotted today walking the Grand Central (NYC) store with a group of store and headquarters employees, according to a 9to5mac.com story. In her email Ahrendts gave up no clues about the retail stores’ future direction. Instead, she talked about employees being ambassadors of the company, how the on-line and retail groups might learn from one another, and what has touched and changed her so far—”The brilliant balance between the creative and the commercial that the company has maintained as it has grown so dramatically,” she wrote. Ahrendts did note that 80 percent of the time, “Our customer journey begins online and we must evolve to ensure we support this preference.” Lastly, Ahrendts said she will celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary next month, and added that her husband, three teen children, two dogs and two cats will take up residence in San Francisco “soon.”

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The U.S. Secret Service has arrested a Florida man for federal wire fraud related to $309,000 in credit card transactions at Apple retail stores that exploited a procedural vulnerability and the willingness of employees to complete a sale. According to the criminal complaint, Sharron L. Parrish Jr., 24, also attempted to charge another $51,000 on his Chase and SunTrust credit cards, but the transactions were either declined or not completed. Parrish was arrested in Tampa on July 17th and agreed to forego bail until his trial. He is being held at the Pinellas County jail, and is represented by a federal public defender. The Secret Service says that during 2012–2013 Parrish traveled to 16 states making fraudulent credit card purchases at rental car agencies, hotels and Apple stores. The complaint that led to his arrest was based on crimes he allegedly committed or attempted at the Brandon (Fla.), Boca RatonMillenia and Wellington Green Apple stores, involving transactions up to $7,400 each. read more…

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For the first time in recent history, Apple’s announcement of its quarterly financial results did not include details about the retail stores, and a one-hour conference call made absolutely no mention of the chain at all. It also appears the company will no longer report the number of store visitors–the figure was missing from the financial filing for the second quarter in a row. Significantly, Apple said it will open just 20 new stores during fiscal 2014, the lowest number since 2002, the second year of the chain. Two-thirds of those stores will be outside the United States. During the usual one-hour conference call with financial analysts yesterday, chief financial officer Luca Maestri didn’t spend the usual 30 seconds providing details about the stores, including profit, number of visitors, number of stores opened during the quarter, and average revenue per store. Financial analysts also ignored the stores during the conference call, and focused their questions on the details of Q3 and the upcoming quarter. It wasn’t clear why the usual conference call sequence was changed, but the retail store time seems to have been spent on a two-minute summary of the quarter by CEO Tim Cook at the beginning of the conference call. details

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In the on-going attempt to simplify and speed up the process of making retail store training reservations, Apple has reconfigured how Web visitors interact with the “Learn” Web page, including an interactive map of the stores and revised session descriptions. The changes make the process more logical and integrates workshops, Youth Programs and One to One training more fully into the Concierge reservation system. The previous Web page required visitors to read through a description of the various sessions titled “Discover Your Mac/iPhone/iPad” and “OSX Mavericks.” A visitor then clicked on the appropriate “Make a reservation” link to begin the sign-up process. The new Web page has visitors enter their location first, and then a map appears of nearby Apple retail stores. A pop-up window shows the store’s details, with a link to view the available workshops. That next page displays sessions, which are more task-based, including “Design Beautiful Presentations” and “Personalize Your iPhone and iPad.” After selecting a session, the typical display of dates and times is displayed for selection.
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