Last week I walked out of Apple’s flagship store on Arlington Street in Boston feeling like a shoplifter. If you were there, you would have seen the following: A guy walks to the back of the second floor, pulls a brand-new iPhone bumper off the shelf, fiddles with his iPhone, opens the package at one of the yellow wood tables, fits the bumper to his phone, and walks out of the store. This is the new retail experience preferred by Apple, but it’s pretty terrifying to a regular shopper like me!
Let me explain. The key moment of the story is when I used the updated Apple Store app on my phone to scan the barcode on the bumper package and pay for it online using my Apple account. No one in the store saw me do this, and I opted to receive my receipt through e-mail. I’m still not sure how Apple plans to keep shoplifters at bay.
Maybe I need to explain a little more what is happening here. Apple was one of the first companies to do away with fixed cash registers at the front of the store, opting for mobile payment devices in the hands of their “associates” on the floor. Now they have implemented do-it-yourself payment called “EasyPay” using the iPhone in just about every customer’s pocket.
The combination of in-store network connectivity, a high quality built-in camera, and perhaps the most complete database of customer credit cards in existence allows Apple to introduce a really revolutionary shopping experience. But is it revolutionary in a good way? I definitely felt like I was doing something wrong, even though I waited for my confirmation e-mail and PDF receipt before walking out of the store.
Supposedly, store management and associates are notified whenever a customer buys something in this manner. But how could they possibly know who it was? There’s no way they could locate a phone in the store with that kind of granularity, and I didn’t see any indication that the app snapped a picture or otherwise identified me. Maybe store security just isn’t looking out for middle-aged guys acting suspiciously with iPhone bumpers.
I’m still nervous about paying for things at the Apple Store in this way. But it’s hard to deny the speed and convenience of the transaction. I was in and out in just a couple of minutes and never once talked to an employee. Maybe I’ll get used to it, or maybe Apple will decide that it really wasn’t such a good idea after all. But I paid for my bumper. Honestly, I did. And it looks great with the new transparent iPhone 4S back plate from iFixit!