masthead-highres

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Apple Store: Family Unfriendly?

The Apple Computer "Apple Store" webpage says 'Apple is committed to providing assistance to its customers with special needs,' but don't believe a word of it -- at least, not if you're short.

That was the experience my soon-to-be-six son had at the Annapolis Apple Store Saturday, prompting me to pop on the Internet after the kids were tucked in to see if the way my son was treated is Apple policy or if the employee who afflicted my son was just a -- pun alert -- bad apple. A bad seed. Rotten to the core.

In our case, my son -- the apple of my eye -- was all but told he was unwelcome to check out any of the laptops at the Annapolis location -- not because he was misbehaving or no laptops were available, but because he is too short (he's small for his age) to see the top of the keyboard on the high tables the Apple store uses, and a store clerk absolutely forbade him from using a stool. Even an Apple stool placed on the floor of the store by the management for the use of customers.

Stools, you see, are only for "geniuses" -- even if there aren't any geniuses around wanting a stool, and even if the boy's mommy promises to give the stool to a genius the instant one walks in. (Why the emphasis on geniuses, anyway? Do smart people have weak feet? My feet seem fine. Hmmm....)

So the score stood at Apple Store 1, Little Boy 0. But why would an Apple Store keep a well-behaved little boy off a computer? What did Apple gain?

Our visit to the Annapolis Apple Store was occasioned by the fact that Husband David and I have agreed to buy the kids a new computer (OK, a used computer, but new to them). The one they have been using is so old I've had trouble finding software for it, even on eBay. It retails on used Mac websites for all of $5, so at this point, I think I've milked just about every pixel out of it I am going to.

My thinking is that a used Mac Mini, paired with the cheapest monitor I can find, will fit the bill. My son is hoping to convince me to spring for a laptop. As part of his lobbying campaign, he'd been urging me since Wednesday to take him to the Annapolis Apple Store (which is about a half-hour drive from our house) on Saturday. I agreed, in part because I am a bit of a geek myself, and in part because, if the price is right, the space-saving attributes of a laptop are appealing. I'm just not sure if they are durable enough, and I'd also like to be sure he really means it when he says he'd prefer it to a desktop, because I don't want any Buyer's Remorse.

Well, we may not have Buyer's Remorse, but we sure do have Shopper's Remorse.

I don't know why it was so important to this clerk that my son not use a stool no one else wanted to appropriately check out a product no one else was looking at. My best guess is that the clerk is just a bully. My online reading this evening leads me to believe that the stores were designed to be family-friendly, and that Cupertino really didn't envision a scenario in which grown men chase little boys off the equipment.

I found an entire website dedicated to news about Apple Computer Stores. (Amazingly, it says some people actually wait in line overnight to be among the first to enter a new store when Apple opens one. Wow. I thought I was geeky, but I guess I don't hold a candle to some folks.) The website is an interesting source of information about the retail philosophy behind the stores. I had no idea they were designed to allow folks to use the computers to check email, surf the web, etc. The times I've tried the computers there (mostly to gawk at the 30" display, which I covet), I've been very self-conscious about not staying on a machine more than a minute or two, even if it looks like no one else wants to use it. Apparently, I could have stayed for hours.

The employee who dealt with us was very rude (as was some passerby lady who injected herself into the conversation to tell us -- twice -- that she is a schoolteacher and her school does not allow children to use stools because they are "not safe" -- ???) and he was not too bright. When it became clear that he would keep finding new reasons to keep my son off the laptop (the stools are for geniuses excuse morphed into a "he should use the kids' games" iMacs excuse, to a "stools are dangerous" [thanks, lady] excuse), I accused him of just wanting to throw his weight around. He essentially replied that that could not be true, because he wasn't the manager. I can only assume he does not like the manager.

It was pointless to try to talk with him, and pointless to stay if the laptops were to remain out of reach, so we left. Poor son was glum, though, because he had waited three days for the trip, and he only got two minutes on the stool. He didn't complain, but when I took him and his siblings two stores down to the play area (the very play area Don Surber writes about here), he just sat on the little blue car and stared right ahead, not pretending to drive. Not typical.

So, what to do? Being a wonk, my first thought was to check the Public Accommodation Provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I read them, and we may have a case (I did not go to the trouble of looking for relevant case law; if we get to that point, we'll hire an expert attorney). Our son is notably shorter than a typical boy his age. A musculoskeletal disability under Sec.36.104?

The law says:
Sec.36.302 Modifications in policies, practices, or procedures.

(a) General. A public accommodation shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when the modifications are necessary to afford goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities, unless the public accommodation can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.
I'm pretty sure that letting my son as a prospective (and past) customer of the store use a stool that was placed on the floor of the store for use of such customers would not "fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations" of the Annapolis Apple Store.

However, I'm not a leftist. I hate to hide behind Big Brother in a civil dispute (though I do get growly when grown men are mean to my kids, which -- along with the fact that Apple Computer has Al Gore on its board -- tempts me to make an exception in this case).

An alternative is to go to the next Apple Shareholders Meeting and let my son ask Steve Jobs directly why he can't, if he is very, very good, use a stool. Our good friend Tom Borelli would probably be happy to give us a few tips on how shareholder meetings work. It would cost more than a new laptop, but I have to think my son would learn a lot from the process. Husband David is an Apple shareholder already, but perhaps we should buy a few shares for our son, so he would have proper standing to participate in a shareholders meeting. I wouldn't want them to bar him on a technicality.

Well, we'll see. I plan to call Cupertino on Tuesday and ask Apple their exact policies on accessibility, stools and kids. Maybe Apple would just as soon all kids stayed off their equipment. If so, they own the stores; we'd respect a ban on kids. But if kids are allowed, and it appears they are now, then our kid should be treated fairly.

In closing, a quote from an Apple webpage:
Since 1985 Apple has been committed to helping people with disabilities access their personal computer.
Within the operating system, yes. But first, you have to be able to reach the darn computer!

Otherwise, it will be one sour apple.

P.S. Speaking of folks who sleep outside Apple stores so they can be first to get in when they open, here's a story about a fellow who turned a time-lapse video about the experience into a marriage proposal.

I gather there are entire elements of the culture I am missing entirely.

Addendum, 5/28/06: Well, everyone says Apple has a loyal customer base and that certainly seems to be true; my e-mail box is full of letters and this blog has received thousands of hits in less than a day from a half-dozen fan websites with the word "apple" in them.

I'm publishing a selection of the letters, unedited (except I replaced full names, when signed, with initials).

A couple of notes. First: Yes, I am kidding about the Americans with Disabilities Act/lawsuit. Those of you who came to my blog from an Apple website and read this post and none other apparently are unaware that I have worked against lawsuit abuse for years, and even worked against passage of the ADA. Similarly, the reference to suing Apple because it has Al Gore on its board is a joke based on the fact that I write about global warming a lot and he and I have differing views on that subject.

Second: Many correspondents are assuming the Apple employee was acting from concern that my son would fall off the stool and Apple would be sued. In fact, he expressed neither concern. His concerns as expressed to me were, in sequence: 1) that the stools were for the use of the Genius bar only (there were more stools there than customers, so I said this seemed silly as we could return the stool if more customers arrived); 2) that my son using the stool was dangerous because having a stool in front of the laptop would block the aisle (this seemed silly because the laptop was in the same aisle as the genius bar, the aisle was wide and there were only a few customers in the store), and 3) that my son should have been on the games machines. Of the three, the last was the most emphasized, although there was no implication that they have a policy against kids trying the machines. The "falling of the stool" concern was expressed by another customer but never by the Apple employee. In fact, I suspect that, had my son had a genius bar question, they would have been happy to let him sit on the stool - as long as it was in front of the genius bar. The whole issue really came down to the fact that the stool was moved about eight feet. Verboten! Believe me, if I had been approached politely and told that for liability reasons Apple does not allow children under 12 (or whatever) on the stools the whole conversation would have been different - although I would have been perplexed at the notion that a 3-foot stool poses more danger to kids than, say, typical playground equipment. It's a stool, folks, not a chainsaw.

Third: Some have written assuming that a child of six is still at the "smashing the keyboard" stage. Pretty much any normally-developing child passes this stage at two or three at most. Computers are pretty commonly used in elementary schools.

The letters are still coming in at a pretty good clip, but I'll print a representative sample now and move on to a new subject, with this closing thought: I bet that, had I complained about almost any other store, no one would haave cared.
No, no, you've got it all wrong. The stools are for the customers of the "Apple Geniuses" who work at the geniuses bar. The stools are an essential part of the service, since troubleshoot with the customer can take some time. Also, for liability reasons, putting a six year old on a free standing stool is a problematic safety issue.

Also, did you explain to the Apple employee that you were considering purchasing a laptop for your son? If you had they would have probably made an exception, provided that he was supervised the entire time. Again, I don't think it's an issue of your son using the laptop, rather the liability if he'd had fell off the stool unsupervised.

In any case, they should have found a way to let your son use the laptop, if you were considering a purchase for him.

- J

I'm sorry that your experience at the Apple Store was so lacking; however, I think you should be upset with the lawyers instead of the store. Even you did not hesitate to quote law to support your side. Too many times, a friendly action to help has resulted in a lawsuit for an injury. In this case, your son, and EVERYONE ELSE, was not permitted to use a stool because of fear someone would fall from it and decide to sue.

Case in point, I'm a journeyman toolmaker in two crafts, but when I go to Home Depot, I'm prohibited from using a saw.

So get off of your "pity me" stool and update your expectations. In fear of being sued, more freedoms are being lost. Your son's stature is no more deserving of special treatment than is my skill level.

L


Amy,

The reason that Apple doesn't let kids use the stools from the genius bar, is that if one of them falls off of it, the company risks being sued for millions of dollars if the kid hits his head on the floor.

Your beef should be with the trial lawyers' association, not with Apple.

-J


Hello:
Briefly - I used to work for Apple Retail as a supervisor and I can tell you three things;
1. The stools are for the genius bar - (for customers) but ABSOLUTELY can be used anywhere in the store should a situation require one.
2. The employee was ABSOLUTELY in the wrong and should have accommodated your request. His training should have prompted him to find a solution not to chide the customer. Frankly, if he was that uncomfortable with the child on a stool he should have offered to remove the laptop off the table and let your child try it that way.
3. Finally, all of Apple's related policies reinforce the idea of access and ease of use for everyone. You should send an email to the Apple retail store's manager and inform him of your experience.

C


You are kidding - right? Your child does not have a disability. Your child is a child. I don't blame Apple for not wanting your child (or my child) to play with a three thousand dollar laptop.

BTW, many Apple stores have a section dedicated to children. My twins routinely play with the computers while I shop for software or other items. The design is very nicely done for children; five or six all in one computers are placed in a circle on the floor so even toddlers can experience the computer. My suggestion for you (rather than bringing a frivolous lawsuit that will be laughed out of court) is to either shop at an Apple Store with a child-friendly configuration or buy the computer and let your child play with it at home.

M


The stools at the apple stores are not *for* geniuses, they are for people who need service at the genius bar. Typically, not stools are allowed on the floor for anyone. Your son was being denied anything, he was be treated like everyone else. In addition, there are typically four iMacs set up specifically for kids. They are at ground level. iMacs are typically more powerful than the notebooks, anyhow, and what six year old needs either an ibook or powerbook notebook? I found your flippant attitude and loose command of the facts much more rude than the unnamed Apple store service technician.

If a six year old really, really wanted to check out a notebook, you could buy one and keep it for up to 14 days, and return it for a 100%, no-restocking-fee refund. All that would be affected would be the two week float on your credit card.

A

Note from Amy: Is it really fair to use an Apple notebook for two weeks for free? I assume they'd have to sell it used once I returned it. Just a thought.


I took special interest in your experience at the Apple store. Apple should not write off young customers. Here's my story for you:

A year ago I was visiting my grandson, [name deleted], on his second birthday in a city far distant from my home. I took an Apple iBook along to keep in touch with my own family. Since [name deleted] had mastered his numbers and alphabet before I arrived, I thought it might be interesting to see if he was ready to learn the keyboard layout. He took to it eagerly. He was quite delighted to be able to produce large letters on the monitor as a result of hitting specific keys. He took a fondness to specific letters and the on/off key. He never abused the laptop in any way.

We started by his sitting in my lap at the dining room table, but he soon graduated to sitting on a pile of books with me off to the side. A stool would have been all the better!

I worked with him most days for 30 minutes. He was always eager for a new session. He learned the location of several keys and how to spell his name. I sensed that the time (his age) was appropriate for this kind of learning while he had the desire. After I left for home he turned to other interests. I'll visit him again when he is 3.5. We'll see if he's interested in picking up where we left off. Right now he's fascinated with magnets.

B


Amy,

I was touched by your experience at the Applestore. Very eloquent and maternally stated. I have 2 small boys myself and have run into what you describe from time to time (at other stores). And I absolutely hate it! Not all kids are the typical ill-mannered monsters we see running amok.

I think your idea to attend a shareholder meeting and ask the board (or even Steve Jobs himself) to explain their policies is wonderful. You son would learn he has a voice and can assert himself to achieve what he wants. And I'm betting Apple would appreciate being alerted to this sort of behavior in their stores and would address this situation directly and forcefully.

And who knows, your boy sounds very cute and well-mannered. I have a soft spot myself when I see great kids who are trying to do something. Whatever action you take, I hope some heartstrings are pulled and your son is not only apologized to, but given some goodies for his trouble. If it were up to me, your son would have that laptop, in black!

Best Wishes,

A


You wrote, "That was the experience my soon-to-be-six son had at the Annapolis Apple Store Saturday, prompting me to pop on the Internet after the kids were tucked in to see if the way my son was treated is Apple policy or if the employee who afflicted my son was just a -- pun alert -- bad apple. A bad seed. Rotten to the core."

Madam, you must be one of those customers that make sales staff cringe just by your very presence. Reading your article / rant, it's clear to me that the sky is a different colour in the world you inhabit. Why don't you let your little boy be a little boy, and spend some quality time reading with him instead? Why does a five year old even need a laptop? It seems clear to me you have your priorities wildly mixed up.

Respectfully yours,

M


grow up......... no pun intended.

P


I find your Apple Store : Family Unfriendly?
Sick as our society is - as the Amy & family lives and is
influenced or brainwashed
this default world aspic of society -
The PC world - type of family in a Apple Store.

Sounds like you just had to find a problem -
As you had an attitude to begin with -
I agree with the Apple clerk -
I found Apple Stores to be the most child friendly -
Yes certain size/age children should not be allowed
to paw at your "PC user" term - "Laptops"!

The Apple store I've been in have chairs for
the children in their own area & computers for them.

Yes the stools are for adults or geniuses -
as they might be unsafe for children -

Get a life! -
Is this all you can come up with to pick on Apple -
If this is" Public Policy Research"
You need to think different!
There are real violations out there!

Sounds to me like you belong in a
Gateway, Dell "Dull" or Best Buy store
for an experience.

Truly,

P


I too had a similar experience with my 5 year old daughter.

There is a solution. You must call ahead to the Apple store and explain the situation. The Apple store will have you sign a waiver where you agree to purchase any item damaged by a sibling during your shopping experience. Their legal department also advised use of stepping stools or ladders by anyone other than Apple employees is not sanctioned by the store. Furthermore. placing a child on a seat/chair/stool without safety restraints (ie highchair) that the child is unable to get on or off by themselves or higher than the child is irresponsible at anytime, especially in a busy commercial establishment. They further explained the Children Center area with short tables and seats is added to stores at considerable cost for the very purpose of accommodating younger children.

Bottom line: release of responsibility to Apple for lawsuit happy people and recovery of damages by parents who do not properly supervise their children. Unfortunately, laws and rules in America have degraded to the point of restricting freedom of responsible people so as to regulate the behavior of the less responsible and unaware among us.

B


Mrs. Ridenour,

I fail to see what in the world Al Gore has to with this rant. Practice your right in a free market society and go somewhere else for your child's computer. Perhaps you should use your obvious intelligence and invent something, or start a business; instead of poking in every crook and cranny for something that does not fit your world view and bringing down upon it the wrath of a lawyer's practiced reason ridicule.

We believe the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility, combined with a commitment to a strong national defense, provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.

Oh yes, indeed.

J


I read your comment about the Apple store.

I found it deeply disturbing, but not because of what the folks at the Apple Store did or did not do.

You may fancy yourself a "wonk," or merely an astute consumer, but you come across as angry, arrogant, and judgmental. From just the tone of your piece, I quickly realized that if I were "the help" in any retail establishment serving you or your family, I might also cop an attitude very quickly.

Why do I have this image of an angry woman with "perfect" kids (who are acting like hellions), with a sheepish husband quietly backing away? That may be the furthest thing from the truth, but it's the picture painted by your prose.

If you've experienced "poor treatment" at a variety of retail establishments, it wouldn't surprise me one bit.

F


As you have no obvious place to post responses to your blog on your blog site I will ask these questions in an email.
Why did you not call ahead and see if the store would make accommodations for a six year old to test a two thousand dollar computer?
Why were you not willing to hold you six year old son up long enough for him to discern whether or not he liked the laptop (Mac-Book)?
Have you ever told your six year old that you think he is handicapped because he is short?
Did you withhold from the clerk in the Apple store that you had no intention of buying the computer from them?
Would the person selling the second hand computer not let your six year old test it?
just curious, as you had left these points out of your diatribe.

P


Are you being serious? You wasted all that typing to complain that an employee would not let your 6 year old son play on a laptop that he could not reach? Let me repeat this again. You wasted all that typing to complain that an employee would not let your 6 year old son play on a laptop that he could not reach?

If you really wanted your son to see the laptop, you could have been a responsible parent and held him so he could see the laptop. I don't think Apple should bend over backwards and make it possible for a KID that is too short to see over the table to be able to use an expensive laptop. EXPENSIVE Apple laptops are not the appropriate product for a 6 year old kid. Plus, why risk the SHORT kid falling off the stool onto a hardwood floor and injuring himself then you'd be a screaming mad idiot saying how dare you let my son sit on that stool when he is too short.

If you want to voice your opinion about something, then voice it about all the homeless people in DC and why we can send billions of dollars to support a war in Iraq (I bet you voted for Bush, too) but can't take care of the homeless.

Then you want to bring up the Americans with disabilities act? It's people like you that we have lawyers trying to sue whomever because someone feels they wasn't treated they way they should be when there is no merit for it.

Your son was not treated wrongly by the Apple Store. He was treated like a SIX YEAR OLD KID!!! A six year old kid that has the high probability of pulling that laptop off the table and unto himself and then on the floor. So, look at it this way, the Apple Store possibly saved you from buying a damaged laptop.

Have a good evening.

R


This is the first time I've ever responded to something I came across in a blog, but after seeing a headline in MacSurfer.com, I felt I had to.

Do you really expect a store, any store, to allow small (especially small in your child's case) children to be placed precariously upon a stool designed for adults and humans of normal stature? With all of the frivolous lawsuits taking place, suppose your child was placed on the stool, and you and the Apple Store salesperson looks away for a split second, then the child falls off, hits its head on the (allegedly) high table, cracks open the scull, and BAM.... Apple, Inc. gets sued.

Isn't it better for Apple, Inc. to err on the side of caution? To protect a child's safety?

Maybe that's just me, seeing the bigger picture...

B
Proud Supporter of Preventing Children From Falling Off Dangerous Stools in Apple Stores


Hi, I just read your blog on how your son was treated at an Apple store. I have never worked in an Apple store, I don't work for Apple, and although I think they make the best computers in the world, I do agree that they have some crappy policies in place, but I think you're wrong in this case. I'm sure they have probably been told that it's a liability to have any kids in the stools because if one fell and got hurt, they don't want a lawsuit or the bad press. That's why they have the kid's area with the big round squishy seats. Now maybe this helper didn't go the extra mile like he should have and offered to bring the computer he wanted to see over to the kid's area, but what do you expect from a high school/college kid getting paid a little more than minimum. And although the geniuses are very tech savvy and can fix a lot of problems, they're not paid much more than the others. Just like you wouldn't walk into the Gap and expect the employees to go and design you a new outfit on the spot, you shouldn't expect too horribly much from the Apple store employees. Next time, and I certainly hope this hasn't soured you off of Apple so there is a next time, ask if they can bring a computer over to the kid's section. If they still won't and the manager won't, then you have a real complaint.

J


As a parent I can understand your frustration, but as a business owner, I would have unfortunately been forced to refuse as well. I realize neither you or your husband work in, or are owners of a business, but I'm sure you have seen the signs on store stools, ladders, and the like which read something like "Employees Only". I'm also sure you read about the lady suing for hot coffee, or slips on water, etc. In this world of lawsuits, especially of large companies with deep pockets (i.e. insurance) it would have surprised me if Apple has said yes!

Put aside your wounded parent hat, the sad look in your son's eyes, and think about it.

J

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:05 AM

Copyright The National Center for Public Policy Research