It seems incredible that a $2.3 trillion corporation would leave customer transactions and finances entirely at the mercy of self-employed couriers with bikes, yet that appears to be what’s happening at Apple. That plus internal systems that, from my own experience at least, feel weighted against good customer relationships, and you have a recipe for misery.
Let me explain. Last Friday morning an ancient, ailing Macbook I was using to edit videos finally died. As I was on a tight deadline for a video project, I bit the bullet after months of prevaricating and decided to buy a high-spec MacBook Air.
I looked online and saw that the model I wanted was available for same-day delivery at my location. (Oddly, the same-day option was free (or so the website claimed), whereas if I wanted the laptop in 2-3 days the delivery would have cost me £8. No matter, worse was to come...)
Although there’s an Apple Store nearby (hence the same-day option), I was tied up with work and the website said the computer would be with me by 6pm latest, so I stupidly bought it online. For the misery that followed, I paid the wince-inducing sum of £1,649 (for US readers that’s $1,649, using Apple’s ‘change the symbol but leave the numeral the same’ economics. Exchange rate? Pah!) I then waited all afternoon for the knock on the door that would herald a sleek box of joy. (I only noticed later that I had been charged £8 for my ‘free’ delivery, but by then that was the least of my woes…)
Come 6pm, no laptop. Frustrating, as only clashing work deadlines had prevented me from walking to the Apple Store myself, which is just 15 minutes away. But as the Store was open until 7pm, I assumed my delivery was simply running late.
By 7.30pm it became apparent that my urgent, expensive laptop wasn’t coming that day. So, I checked the order status, which had been saying ‘no courier assigned’ all afternoon. It told me the delivery would definitely be with me that night by times that got later and later as I watched. It was like witnessing hope die in real time.
I knew the promised late delivery time was nonsense as the Apple Store was now closed, so I opened a customer chat window. Once I had evaded the chatbot by typing ‘Please connect me to a human’ (typing ‘agent’ also works) a real person joined. Let’s call her ‘M’.
After I explained the situation (“Perfect, Chris! You’re a star!”), M said (quoted directly from the transcript that Apple provided):
“May I ask if you received any sort of communication about this order?”
“I see. OK, no worries. As I can see here, the courier was unable to deliver your order today, so the order was cancelled, I’m afraid, and you’ll need to place a new one.”
According to $2.3 trillion Apple, my urgent £/$1,649 purchase had been cancelled simply because a local courier – let’s call him Bryan With A Bike – either couldn’t pick it up, failed to pick it up, or just couldn’t be bothered to pick it up for £8. (The Store uses a firm of self-employed riders, assigned via a ‘same-day, luxury-brand’ courier network). But Apple’s internal CRM system still showed the order as live and on its way to me.
Incredibly, M from Apple was telling me that, if I still wanted the laptop (perish the thought I might actually want the computer I had paid for!) then I would have to buy another one. For another £/$1,649. Remember: Apple still had my money from the first transaction. The high-tech mega-corps couldn’t accept my existing payment as, you know, payment. Staggering.
But fear not, Apple would return the money from my first purchase in “up to seven days”. Seven days in which Apple could sell the same machine to someone else, of course, while banking the interest on my money. Great news – for Apple.
Now that M was telling me to fork out another £/$1,649, this would bring my total expenditure so far to £/$3,298 for a single laptop that would, again, be reliant on Bryan With A Bike actually delivering it to me. But what if Bryan was busy? How many more laptops would I have to buy, at multiples of £/$1,649, before my purchase was convenient for him?
By this point in the chat, I was typing in ANGRY CAPITALS while M explained something truly bizarre:
The courier that fulfils immediate delivery orders has the option to cancel an order if he sees that they cannot deliver it in the time expected.
If true, this is forehead-slapping insanity. A $2.3 trillion corporation was telling me that a local boy with a bike – an unconnected, self-employed third-party – had the power to cancel a £/$1,649 purchase that I, Apple’s customer, had made. Can you imagine Amazon allowing such a ludicrous thing to happen?
Meanwhile, Apple’s front end was still claiming my order was live and on its way to me. This was a back-office system failing to update a front-office one, presenting a Contact Center employee with completely different information to the customer. Had I not opened the customer chat I would have had no idea why my laptop hadn’t arrived.
Once I had finished typing that it was INSANE for Apple to let a local courier cancel a purchase I had made in good faith, and it was COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE to tell me to spend ANOTHER £/$1,649 while Apple STILL HAD MY MONEY, and, by the way, why couldn’t the Store have simply PHONED ME as I lived 15 minutes away?, M suddenly changed her tune. Round about the time I demonstrated some knowledge of consumer law.
She now announced that only the delivery had been cancelled, not my purchase, thus contradicting everything she had told me so far. M could “request” that the courier “try to deliver” the order the next day. Why does Apple keep giving Bryan With A Bike all the power? Tell Bryan With A Bike to deliver the outrageously expensive laptop to the angry man, or else!
Seeing light at the end of the tunnel, I typed “You told me to order another computer!”, but this time not in shouty capitals. “I told you to order another computer to have the carrier deliver it to you,” said M, bizarrely. (Just keep spending £/$1,649, folks, sooner or later Bryan won’t be busy!) “Is my order live, yes or no?” I asked. “Your order is still active in the system,” said M. “Just the delivery has been cancelled?” “Correct.”
Progress! Of a sort. After further discussions, M assured me that the courier had been instructed to deliver my laptop the next day, so I thanked her and left the chat – after an hour of my life I will never get back. A 24-hour delay was bearable, I thought, as I could still (just about) hit my deadline. Either way, I still needed a new laptop.
And so it was, dear reader, that at 00.47am on Saturday, UK time, all my remaining Apple devices pinged with an exciting update from the multi-trillion-dollar megacorps. You can see what’s coming, no? Oh, but yes:
Your pickup for order XXX has been cancelled. We are working on your refund now.
So, nothing that Apple’s customer service team had promised me was true – or, at least, it had not come to pass. The courier had not been instructed – or perhaps had refused the job or was unable to fulfil it – and my purchase had been cancelled again. Perhaps it had been all along. Who can say what goes on in Apple’s awful internal systems?
Meanwhile, the website told me that, once my laptop had been returned to the warehouse, I would get my money back “in 5-7 days”. A week during which Apple would have both my cash and my laptop. But in the meantime, I could always spend the same sum again. And again, and again. After all, who doesn’t have £/$3,298 and rising to punt on buying a laptop that Bryan With A Bike might eventually get round to delivering?
A truly bizarre business model, and a reading of contract law that might make sense to a machine or a CRM system, but certainly doesn’t to a human. ‘M’ from Apple had the good grace to admit that, had she been a customer, she would have been just as frustrated as I was. I have that in writing.
The 'logic' appears to be this: when you buy a laptop online from Apple, you’re not just buying a computer, but also a delivery time slot. Apple regards that time slot as an immutable contract, one that cannot be separated from the goods themselves.
So, if the time slot can’t be hit, for whatever reason - such as Bryan falling asleep, being hit by a truck or just generally not giving a proverbial – your hardware purchase is null and void. Meanwhile, Apple keeps your money for up to seven days and your laptop stays in its all-important, all-hallowed inventory.
This is patently ridiculous. If every e-commerce company behaved in this way, no one would have survived the pandemic. (And imagine the hellish future that awaits once blockchains start applying immutable machine logic to every damn thing you buy.)
To a machine, the solution is simple - keep buying more and more laptops until you’re bankrupt, in the hope that one of them will eventually be delivered. But in the real world of struggling human beings, this is appalling, lamentable, and bizarre service that only benefits Apple’s inventory. The customer, it seems, can go to hell. That’s where Apple has left me.
While the bricks-and-mortar Apple Stores are always friendly and helpful – and my local branch has since tried (unsuccessfully) to remedy the online store’s cockups – deep down, all Apple customers know we are completely unimportant to this $2.3 trillion behemoth. Tweet at Apple with a problem and the response is silence. We’re nothing to Apple. We are all irrelevant compared to its inventory and revenues. Gee, thanks Tim!
So let me say this now: Apple, do better – or get on your bike. Even if Bryan can’t.
Meanwhile if you really want an Apple laptop, for the love of Jobs, buy it from Amazon!