NEVER MIND THE DEATH THREATS: An Apple Store worker tells us what it's really like working for Apple

Photo: Getty Images.

A veteran Apple retail worker has given Business Insider a lengthy interview about what it is really like working at Apple in the UK. This staffer told us:

  • Workers feel the company’s mandatory internal criticism policy makes Apple “like a cult.”
  • Apple Store workers routinely face death threats from customers.
  • It’s easier to get into Harvard than it is to work at an Apple Store.
  • Even if you sell an enterprise contract worth hundreds of thousands, all you will get is £8 an hour and a handshake.
  • Apple store workers are paid so little many cannot afford the products they sell and some go into debt to buy them.
  • Apple doesn’t promote from within or give bonuses to its best workers.
  • What happens if you come to work carrying a Samsung phone.
  • Why Apple staff will ask you about your favourite flavour of ice cream.

Apple is notorious for its secrecy and the length it will go in order to prevent leaks about its products. But fewer people know that the secrecy extends all the way down to its Apple Store retail staff, too. Every salesperson in a blue Apple T-shirt signs a confidentiality agreement from their first day on the job, which bans them from speaking publicly. They can’t even mention it on Facebook, or take a selfie with their Apple T-shirt on.

More seriously, Apple store workers in the UK have historically been stopped from advancing inside the company by internal policies that prevent part-time workers from going full-time, and prevent them from being promoted into management positions, our source says.

Apple pays about £8 per hour in the UK (about $11.70). Our store worker — who asked to remain anonymous in fear that Apple would pursue a legal action based on the confidentiality agreement — says that many store workers cannot afford the products they sell, and receive no sales bonuses even when they sell hundreds of thousands of pounds of equipment per day. Some go into debt while employed by Apple.

There are benefits to working at Apple, however: You and your colleagues are selected because you’re are more educated and more creative than the average retail worker. You get a generous discount on Apple products and a 15% discount on AAPL shares. And you (occasionally) get direct access to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Lastly, this veteran staffer describes the routine idiosyncrasies of working for Apple. From the intense compulsory internal feedback from other staff to the death threats from irate customers whose devices don’t work.

Apple declined to comment when contacted by Business Insider for comment. Needless to say, the company likely disagrees with much of what this staffer has to say. And this employee is just one of tens of thousands; the opinions expressed here may be neither typical not representative of other Apple store workers. But still …

If you have ever thought of applying to wear the blue T-shirt, you need to read this.

Business Insider: Why don’t you start by telling me when you worked at Apple.

Apple store worker: I worked at Apple from 2011. I stopped working at Apple in late 2015.

BI: 2011 was the year Steve Jobs died. What was that like?

A: That day was really strange. It was almost like there was a candle-lit vigil for him. We were there for our “Daily Download,” which happens every day. The atmosphere was like “now that Steve’s gone we’re really appreciative that we have these new staff in-store carrying on Steve’s legacy.” Very strange, very cultish.

BI: Did you have any idea who Steve Jobs was or why he was important, back in 2011?

A: Yeah, everyone does. You go through a lot of interviews to get a job at Apple. You’re not expected to know the products inside out, but you are expected to know about Apple and what it stands for. You’re expected to know who Steve Jobs is. So on that day, it was really gloomy. The store was in mourning.

BI: Any specific example of that mourning?

A: Normally when you go into an Apple store everyone is so happy, everything’s great. You get this idea, when you go into an Apple store, what the staff is going to be like. That day it was the complete opposite. Everyone was sad and quiet. The Apple light on the front of every store was half-dimmed.

BI: You can dim the lights on the Apple logo?

A: Yes. It was like having the flag at half-mast. The logo was half-dimmed.

BI: Did the customers know?

A: We had a load of people come in that day to ask “did you hear about Steve?” and of course everyone had heard about Steve. But they just wanted to come in and talk about him and talk about his legacy.

BI: Did anyone come in just wanting an iPhone?

A: Yes. People who didn’t know who Steve Jobs was still came in. But it was a very big deal that day. When you’re doing training at Apple, you don’t necessarily learn about the products, but you’re taught things like “Steve Jobs designed all the staircases in the Apple stores that have stairs. Apple bought a mountain so that all floors in the stores were exactly the same. There’s a way that those tables line up with the tiles on the floor”, all of that, Steve Jobs designed. In the early days, he would inspect the retail stores to make sure those tables lined up and that everything was as it should be.


You can sell a £100,000 Apple contract ... but you won't get a bonus, commission or a promotion.

BI: Tell me about how much stuff you would sell in a single day.

A: Every day you were 'zoned' on a certain area. Maybe on accessories, or on Mac or iOS -- which is iPhones, iPads and iPods. If I was on Mac, I might sell about seven Macs over an eight-hour shift. If I was on iPad it would probably be eight again. With iPhones you'd generally sell about five a day, but the thing they really wanted you to push was getting contracts with them.

BI: So you'd sell all those items in one shift?

A: So you might do four hours on iPhone and four hours on Mac. Lunch is one hour, unpaid, so it's really a nine-hour shift every day. So per day you're looking at anywhere up 10 sales in total. If it was a launch you'd be doing a lot more than that. We'd usually sell out by midday.

BI: If you're selling 10 devices a day at about £800 each…

A: More than that, if you're looking at a high-spec Mac. We don't get commission, though.

BI: Why not? Wouldn't it make sense to incentivise the sales people to sell more? Say you sell 10 devices at £2,000 each, that's £20,000 a day.

A: The whole point about Apple, the whole ethos, is that we're not pushing people to buy. You want to educate people about the products and get the right product for them. So you're not getting someone to come in and purchase a £2,000 computer when what they need is an iPad. We want to make sure they're happy with their purchase so they come back. The huge thing is NPP: Net Promoter for our People feedback. We actually read the feedback that customers we've served send us. It's very important that they're happy with the service they received, the product they received and the follow-up service.

They were trying to buy an accessory, I upsold them to a different product that was about twice the price but had more features. They ended up buying several hundred devices for their company.

BI: So in one single day, what was the biggest sale you ever did?

A: When they first came out I once sold five 15' MacBooks with retina display, alongside with a desktop and a couple of Macs. The five MacBooks were all around £2,000.

BI: What about the massive enterprise contract you told me about?

A: Yes, we have business contracts as well. Every Apple store has a business team. So if you come in and say you're a business customer, there are other services Apple can offer you in-store. (One customer came into the store) trying to buy an accessory, (and the store's staff) upsold them to a different product that was about twice the price but had more features. They said it would be great for their business, and they ended up buying several hundred devices for their company a couple of weeks later. Soon after that they bought another couple of hundred laptops too.

BI: And did anyone get a commission or bonus for any of that?

A: No, we didn't.

BI: And that was an upsell from an accessory? This person comes into an Apple store looking for what is probably a product at the cheapest price point, and ends up buying several hundred devices!

A: Over a year they spent over £100,000.

BI: What was your hourly wage?

A: At that time it was about £7.

BI: So you're being paid £7 an hour, and a customer comes in looking for, say, a cable, and you've upsold them into a sale over £100,000. And there was no bonus or recognition for this whatsoever?

A: We got recognition -- it's a story that's told throughout quite a few retail stores. (The salesperson) got a handshake for it (laughs). You have to expect these business customers, you have to tend to their needs just the same as you would any other customer.

Business Insider

'Apple didn't fire people for not selling enough products, but sometimes there's an 'attitude' that you need to have to succeed here, and we think maybe you don't have it.'

BI: Why can't you talk to other employees about the death threats?

A: You're under a lot of pressure in there. You've got a three months probationary period, and you're expected to sell a certain amount. They don't give you figures, but you're also expected to sell things like AppleCare -- which is like an extended warranty -- and One to One which is lessons for Mac. I was taken out of the store once to chat to a manager who told me that 'Apple didn't fire people for not selling enough products, but sometimes there's an 'attitude' that you need to have to succeed here, and we think maybe you don't have it.' If you're not performing up to their standards, you can be let go.

BI: So what percentage of people are let go?

A: Not many, actually. After that talk, I did more intensive training with their experts. Experts are like specialists who are 'super' specialist. They have to do exams with higher-up Apple people and know pretty much everything about Apple products. So I did some training with one of them. They are good about giving that support, but the way they told me about that was pretty poor, really. They dragged me out of the zone I was working in, to the front of the store and it felt like they were saying 'well … you're shit.' I hadn't had any communication with managers about performance before that point, which was very near the end of my probation.

It's cutthroat. In my store, which wasn't small, for every person that gets a job, 200 don't. They told us easier to get into Harvard than get a job there.

BI: But you obviously turned it around.

A: I started doing well after I'd had the extra training. But it's cutthroat. In my store, which wasn't small, for every person that gets a job, 200 don't. They told us once that at bigger stores, it's easier to get into Harvard than get a job there.

BI: Do you believe that?

A: It's true. They showed us that statistics. They love statistics.

B: If the pay is so low and the job is so stressful, what is the turnover rate like? Angela Ahrendts says Apple has an 81% retention rate.

A: People do stay at Apple for quite a long time in terms of retail jobs. Most people are there for at least a year, but lots of people leave when they finish uni. My store had approximately 100 people, and not including managers five people who were there when I started working, were still there when I left. Unless people decide that they want a career in retail, they leave as soon as they can. A few people were headhunted from the shop floor. That's not to say Apple is a bad place to work, but after you've been there for a couple of months, you realise that you have very little chance of getting out of the retail side of things -- you are an Apple STORE employee, not an Apple employee. You also realise how hard the job is, and the expectation that the management and customers have for you is painfully high.

BI: Do you have goals to hit?

A: Yes. But again, goals are not the number of products you sell but your attachment rate of selling AppleCare, One to One, and contracts on iPhones.

BI: So it's not just 'are you selling an iPhone?' It's 'are you selling an iPhone with a bunch of stuff attached to it'?

A: That's the thing ... AppleCare is pretty good. It's an extended warranty on your product but it doesn't cover theft or accidental damage. So if people already have insurance they don't need it. But if you don't sell it, it comes up in annual review: 'Why aren't you selling it?'

BI: But accidental damage is the most common type of damage!

A: There is a benefit, but if you've already got insurance, you don't really need, even though there's a huge discount for students.

BI: Do Apple employees use AppleCare?

A: Some do, but it depends. On my iPhone I wouldn't get AppleCare, because my iPhone's insured. The other thing we're told to sell is One to One. It's an amazing service if you need it. It's tuition -- you can only get it if you buy a Mac -- that gives you unlimited sessions, hour long or half hour long, to learn about all the Apple products on your Mac, as well as their Pro apps like Logic, Final Cut Pro.

BI: And how much does it cost?

A: £79 a year. Which seems like a bargain. But if you're an average user who just wants to use their Mac for Facebook or the internet, you don't need it. It's only for people who want to use a specific application they may not know how to. So it's actually a very small percentage of people who need that. It's a great service if you need it, but most people don't. But Apple doesn't like it if you don't sell enough of those.

Business Insider

'You know we're busy when you can't see the floor.'

BI: OK. What are the best things about working at Apple?

A: The people you work with are awesome. Mine was a medium-sized store, and we had just over a hundred people working there most of the time. The managers were cool too. Most people who work at Apple are either musicians or graphic designers. They do really cool stuff.

BI: Does Apple select in favour of musicians and designers?

A: I know that a local college sent out emails to all its students saying Apple really enjoyed employing students from that college and that they were encouraged to apply. They don't exclusively source from universities though. I worked with a guy who was training to be a doctor. There were all sorts of people there. But Apple does favour those kinds of people.

BI: Why?

A: They like creative people who use their products for things like music production or design -- those things that a lot of people use Macs for. Everyone uses computers for internet or word processing, but a lot of people use Macs for those creative things. So I think they want those people who have had that experience to work there as well.

BI: There are benefits too, right, like a discount on Apple stock? That sounds like a good deal.

A: So we could opt in to purchase stock twice a year. The money would be taken out of our salary, and at the end of a six-month period, the stock would be purchased for us at a discount of 15% on the lowest price over that six month period. To be fair to Apple, they do offer lots of benefits, but this was by far the most important one.

BI: And what's the worst thing about working at Apple?

A: The customers. I've met some great customers. They're awesome. But the pressure is incredible. People would come some days, like a Tuesday morning, when we were relatively empty, and say 'You look busy today.' And we'd say 'No. You know we're busy when you can't see the floor.' There were times when people would wait for over an hour to see someone if they wanted to buy a Mac, or a phone, or just to chat about something. We didn't have enough staff. Fifty or 60 people working a day still wasn't enough.

BI: So what's it like when they launch a new iPhone?

A: It's crazy. We open the store early, at 8am. Normally stores open at 9am, depending on whether it was in a mall or standalone. We wouldn't get sent the phones until the night before the launch, so we didn't even see the products much before the customers. There'd be an 'overnight' where people would come in and set up the new phones on displays, but customers would already be queuing outside. They would queue all night. Sometimes they would start camping out before we'd even closed the previous day. When we opened again it'd be unusual if we still had phones left by midday.

BI: And how many people would be lined up?

A: Thousands. Around the block.

BI: Why?

A: They wanted the new product. There'd be a few (blackmarket) re-sellers, but you could only buy two units per person. We'd check the stock we had (about 1,000 phones in total), and say we had 16 black iPhone 64 gigabytes, we'd create 16 cards that said that, go down the queue before opening and hand out cards so people there would know whether or not they'd get a phone.

Getty Images News
Apple CEO Tim Cook.

'One of the staff members wrote to Tim telling him it was an awful idea. That Beats was an awful company, that Apple shouldn't buy Beats -- as if that would make a difference. Obviously, she got no response.'

BI: Did you ever go to Cupertino (where Apple HQ is based)?

A: No, but some people in my store did. I wanted to go, because if you do as an Apple employee, they give you a badge which can let you go through whatever door it opens. A couple of people did work experience where they would fly to Cupertino for six months for training. But that was very hard to get onto. I applied for five of those and never got on.

I had an email from (Tim Cook) once. I'd had an idea that he really appreciated and said they'd implement it in other stores. He probably had no idea who I was, but he still said it was a good idea and thanks for that.

BI: Did you ever meet Tim Cook?

A: No. I had an email from him once. I can't tell you what it was about, but it was nothing major. I'd had an idea that he really appreciated and he said they'd implement it in other stores. He probably had no idea who I was, but he still said it was a good idea and thanks for that.

BI: So you had an idea at Apple and they implemented it.

A: Yes.

BI: Can you tell me what the idea was.

A: No.

BI: OK, how common is it for an Apple employee to email Tim Cook and get a reply?

A: We get emails from Tim Cook regularly, but occasionally people will want to email him back. Remember when Apple bought Beats? One of the staff members wrote to Tim telling him it was an awful idea. That Beats was an awful company, that Apple shouldn't buy Beats -- as if that would make a difference. Obviously she got no response. But someone had another idea, similar to mine, about how we dealt with something in-store. Again, I can't give details as it would identify me. He cc'd it into Tim Cook but also to people in charge of our store area in London. And he got an email back from Tim Cook saying that's a great idea, we'll do this. So it does occasionally happen.

BI: Were these money-saving ideas? New product ideas?

A: No, they were ideas on the way things worked in-store. For example, I worked a lot on a very small team in-store that did workshops. We wanted to have a dedicated iPad for this team that would help us in so many ways. Obviously, we have hundreds of them in-store. We just wanted an iPad on our table, and we weren't allowed one, because that was not Apple policy.

BI: Why would it be helpful to share an iPad?

A: I can't say any more because it would identify me, but it was for a team which was helping out customers. ... The computers and iPads on the shop floor delete everything new on them whenever you restart them. We needed a couple of pages bookmarked, a couple of apps on there. But we couldn't do that on in-house devices.

ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images

'Most of the people I worked with got one, not because they needed it but because they were brainwashed into thinking 'I need one!''

BI: OK. It doesn't sound terrifically cult-like so much as just strict. I mean, how weird does it get?

A: Pretty much everyone in store had an iPhone. You didn't have to have an iPhone, but you were deemed weird if you didn't have one.

BI: So what happens if you're an Apple employee and you walk in with a Samsung?

There was one person who did that (bought a Samsung). Literally one out of over a hundred of us. They were seen as weird.

A: There was one person who did that. Literally one out of over a hundred of us. Nothing really happened, but they were seen as weird. 'Why would you have that?' we thought. 'Why is it better than an iPhone?' It's drilled into your head that Apple is the best. You begin to truly believe that. Like when Apple Watch launched, we were offered a 50% discount on it. I knew that I didn't want one. But when you're in the store and everyone's like 'Oh my God, are you getting the Apple Watch? I've got the new Apple Watch!' Most of the people I worked with got one, not because they needed it but because they were brainwashed into thinking 'I need one!'

BI: So there is a discount on these things?

A: When the Apple Watch came out we were offered 50% off, mainly so we could get one and explain it better to customers. But that's still over £100, which is a lot on a part-time job.

BI: OK. What's the worst product Apple sells. What should people not buy?

A: At this point. The Apple Watch. It's a bit like the first iPad, which lacked a load of features the iPad 2 had. My parents still have the iPad 2. They want to get a new one, but theirs works, and it does everything they want it to. The next Apple Watch will probably have far more features.

BI: Between the iPhone 5 and 5S, that was a period where Samsung had big-screen phones and advertising that made a lot of fun of Apple. It was a brief period where Apple seemed to be in the doldrums and Samsung had its mojo working. Was that noticeable in Apple stores?

A: Not at all. Then the iPhone 6 came in and it got even busier.

BI: When you're an employee is there ever a point where you look around externally and think, 'Hey, Apple doesn't have that.'

A: No, not at all.

BI: So let me just show you this massive, beautiful phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, in ivory gold, with a stylus. You don't look at this and go, 'Wow, if only Apple could design a phone like that'?

A: Steve Jobs hated styluses!

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