The grand opening of the Providence (RI) and Columbia (Md.) retail stores revealed an uneasingly-few number of POS positions at the rear counter–two. But Apple’s decision makes more sense when you realize there’s a chain-wide goal of to process 30 percent of purchases with the devices. The performance goal won’t provide a reward for employees. On the contrary, stores not using the Symbol devices enough will reportedly receive warnings from Cupertino, and even other store managers who are meeting the goal. Apple will no doubt also be tracking its credit card chargeback or disputed purchase rate, now that signatures aren’t obtained from EasyPay customers. Credit card companies don’t like chargeback rates of more than about one percent of total purchases. The lack of signatures is just one less proof that Apple could provide if a customer disputes a charge. There are other issues with the handhelds, too.
Intended to implement what the industry calls line busting, the handhelds were introduced at the start of the 2005 holiday sales season to reduce customer waiting lines. Even with Genius Bars acting as check-out positions, the stores are jammed as Christmas approaches. And a just-released survey by Novations Group found that 75 percent of customers cited long lines as the biggest downside to holiday shopping (followed by too few employees, out-of-stock, poor service and store employees who don’t know merchandise).
As reported here almost a year ago, the handheld computers have a battery life of just one hour (officially rated at 2.5 hours), and have a tendency to re-boot, sometimes during a transaction. The wireless Wi-Fi connection is reportedly sketchy, depending upon the unit’s location within the store. Customers say that buying a computer or iPod at the POS will automatically register their product with Apple. However, a purchase via EasyPay doesn’t complete that registration process, leaving the customer to perform the task at home. And perhaps worst, the e-mail receipt system doesn’t work about 25% of the time, some claim, leaving customers without proof of their purchase, which could complicate a product return.
The handheld computers list for about $1,400, but presumably Apple received a substantial discount to equip 160+ stores with the devices. Even so, Apple has invested at least $2 million in the devices, card swipers, chargers, extra batteries and training.