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The Philosophy of The Mac Store

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Most companies have a guiding philosophy that governs how they do business; how they react to customers, what they are trying to sell and why, and even how they view a standard business transaction.

How these philosophies are communicated to customers vary. Some do it with advertising, some do it with an emphasis to their employees, and some don’t do it at all (until you have a problem).

At The Mac Store, we decided to take a direct approach and just tell anyone who wants to read them what our business philosophies are. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful when determining whether you want to buy from us, or if you run into a problem you’re asking us to solve. Either way, these philosophies will give both our customers and our employees a framework within which we can find common ground, and hopefully make The Mac Store a friend for life.

This is all actually a little off-the-wall and unconventional. But you know what? That’s one way you could describe The Mac Store anyway.

Kevin Anderson
President & CEO

Read More About Our Philosophies

The Mac Store Approach

First and foremost, our stated goal is to make every customer possible love us. Simple as that.

Where it can get complicated is figuring out what creates that feeling of affection or loyalty, because it can be different for everyone. Just like any human relationship, the affection that develops is due to an interpersonal interaction. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to establishing mutual affection. Like everyone else, you are unique, with unique needs and interests, and specific ways you’ll end up feeling loved.

That’s why we’re not driven by policies and rules. Our employees are encouraged to take the time to understand your specific needs; to treat you like the individual you are.

Much of what makes us who we are has to do with our location in the Northwest. Like most of our customers, we love living in this rainy land, with its quirks and sometimes-funky residents. It’s one reason why we believe that people are generally better off interacting with locally-owned companies. From the top down, we “get it.” People in the Northwest tend to be kinder and freer-thinking than in many parts of the country, and collectively, that’s what we try and be as well.

So, we like to think of ourselves as mavericks in many ways (although much of that approach is really a throwback to the age when it was all about small local retailers and there were actual relationships and customer service). In an age where the trend is all about large corporations handing down their “expected mediocrity” from a distant city, or perhaps more accurately, from the halls of Wall Street, we like to do things the Northwest way; with a friendly attitude and a willingness to be guided by philosophy, not policies.

We want to understand what you do and how you do it, so we can best impart our experience and knowledge into your purchasing equation. We like to get to know you, and have you get to know us.

We also try and do that with a very open and humorous attitude. We remind our employees regularly to 1) Not take themselves too seriously in any situation, 2) Don't sweat the small stuff, 3) Care. Care. And keep caring... about all our fellow human beings, 4) Have a sense of humor. 5) Enjoy life. Smell the roses. Make sure you only expend that extra energy on what's really important, like relationships, good communication, and sunsets with a good chardonnay. In the Northwest, that probably means sitting in the rain. But we don't mind that very much, do we?

We do like to tell it like it is. We offer a huge variety of choices, because we know that not everyone can afford, or even needs, the most expensive new computer systems out there. When you come to The Mac Store, you have choices from inexpensive pre-owned systems that still work great for a whole bunch of things, all the way up to complete professional editing systems costing over $10,000… and everything in between. And we offer it all with a smile, hopefully a laugh or two, and just good-old fashioned customer service.

We invite you to experience the The Mac Store difference. We hope you like it.

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Policies

Everyone has read sayings such as “The customer is always right,” and “Customer Service is our number one priority.” But whether those reflect the day-to-day transactions, even from the companies that tout those phrases, can be another matter, especially if a problem crops up.

One can often judge the quality and commitment to customer service a company has based on how a problem is handled. It’s a given that there will be problems. Every company has them. But how are they solved?

At The Mac Store, we refuse to operate based on policy alone. You should never hear the words: “You are right, but it's against our policy” from one of our employees (okay, everyone makes mistakes, but it should rarely happen). We view the word “policy” to be a lazy manager’s way of running things. When there is a complication in resolving a problem, real people hear the facts and make a decision, as opposed to reading a Policy Manual. Sure, we have guidelines and basic rules, but they’re mostly in place to give us a starting point. The good people who work here would like nothing more than to make people happy, but any resolution to a problem has to accommodate both the customer’s and The Mac Store’s point of view. We remain flexible to make sure that we do our best to balance both of those needs. Everyone has a different situation and problem, and we do everything we can to make things right within that framework.

Does this mean we’ll take back product after it’s allowable return time or opened software, etc.? Probably not. As we stated, we do have rules and guidelines, and frankly, every manufacturer is a bit different as well. So we don’t plop our policies on top of everyone else’s and make you live with that. But mostly, we treat you as a valued customer with respect. And that’s where it all begins.

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Problems

No one, or especially no single group of people, is ever perfect. We make mistakes. When we do, our guiding philosophy is to make sure the customer doesn’t suffer for those mistakes. At the same time, we expect our customers to treat us the same way. We believe that if a group of people (i.e. a company) is honest, then they can expect honesty in return. We don’t believe honesty and truth is a situational prerogative.

Sometimes it’s a problem that is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and we’ll help any way we can to interface with a manufacturer who is too large and/or guided only by policies (or worse yet, dedicates too little resources to customer service) to make it easy for a customer to get them to honor their warranty easily.

But the bottom line is that if you have a problem, we’ll do everything we can to reasonably solve it based on your personal situation.

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Is the customer always right?

To be perfectly honest, the real answer to that is no. Someone invented that trite phrase and it’s probably done more damage to retail/consumer relations than any other individual phrase in the English language. What? Heresy you say? Well here’s why:

First of all, and perhaps especially in the computer business, the customer may not always understand the intricacies of the product and/or the situation. A common joke among technicians is to describe a particular problem with any one of a number of variations of the phrase “There is an interface problem between the computer and the chair.” In other words, it’s not the hardware or software, it’s the user (we don’t allow that phrase at The Mac Store, because it’s a bit demeaning, and we strive to appreciate every level of computer awareness, from novice to expert).

So, sometimes the customer has it wrong, and the demanded solution is just not going to make the problem go away. Or maybe the demand just isn’t reasonable, like those who want a merchant to replace a product that’s already covered under a manufacturer’s warranty and the manufacturer dictates a repair strategy only.

Secondly, we live in an age where entitlement and sometimes a lack of personal responsibility create an attitude where a reseller is supposed to relieve a customer of all the responsibilities of owning a product. We won’t go into all the social reasons why some of this has happened, but let’s just say it can bedevil the most well meaning of merchants.

For instance, if you drop your laptop in the bathtub, it’s not really the merchant’s responsibility to replace it. Or if you take a trip to Antarctica for six months and come back to a product that is out of warranty, the fact that you didn’t use it for six months is neither the merchant’s nor the manufacturer’s fault. Believe it or not, we do run into customers who expect something different (or sometimes believe if they’re belligerent enough they’ll get what they want).

We just don’t think it’s right to reward bad behavior while those on good behavior don’t get the same benefits. Now, one might ask, “well can’t you just give the customer a new laptop in the interest of good customer relations?” The answer to that is a bit complicated, because it has a lot to do with the business you’re in.

First of all, a reasonable person wouldn’t expect that to happen. We don’t believe that a good relationship can ever be built on one party catering to even unreasonable demands. That’s more like a slave/master relationship, and in most cases in a relationship like that there wasn’t a whole lotta love. We’ve also found that unreasonable people actually don’t appreciate the above-and-beyond as much as reasonable people. In the end, we can define it thus: Reasonable: we’ll bend over backward to provide a reasonable solution to your dilemma. Unreasonable: you’ll get the same thing, but not more. There will just be a lot of yelling in between.

I’ve always thought that a good restaurant should go above and beyond when they mess up. If they drop a plate of spaghetti in your lap, they should pay for the cleaning bill and give the poor diner a free dinner. Why? Because first of all, it was their fault (and The Mac Store will always make sure a customer doesn’t suffer any more than possible if we make a mistake), but also, because restaurants thrive on repeat business especially from groups, and the cost of that dinner is quite a bit less than the selling price. If I’m selling a one-dollar product that costs me a penny, I can afford to give someone 99 more replacements before I lose money on that product. In the electronics industry, the cost of a product is often between 90% and 95% of the selling price. That’s why you don’t see liberal return policies in electronics, or things like cars. There’s just too much of the cost of the product wrapped up in the selling price. Clothing stores and others, who routinely make 100% mark-up, have a lot more leeway when it comes to taking care of customers, even unreasonable ones.

At the same time, if we make a mistake, we will expect to make you whole, to the extent of our mistake (just keep in mind that we’re not the manufacturer, so a mistake wouldn’t be defined as a faulty product).

But mostly, if you encounter a problem with a transaction at The Mac Store, you’ll find we respond best to reasonability and good humor. If it’s a good thing to do, and reasonable, we’ll do it. If it’s not, we won’t. And those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis with only basic guidelines, so we’re able to help each customer according to their needs.

The bottom line: we understand some companies need to be screamed at and demands made for managers to be brought in before the company will listen. That isn’t the case with The Mac Store. All of our people understand they’re here to listen, and do what they can to solve a problem.

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Trying to get something for nothing

We’re including this philosophy to help those who think scamming companies out of anything is somehow a good game to play. Why people think taking advantage of a group of people (i.e. a company) is somehow more okay than taking advantage of an individual is something I don’t completely understand. But it happens all the time. People lie about their age to get a discount into a theatre, for example, when most of them (one would hope) wouldn’t think of lying about something to get a friend to give them an extra five bucks.

But it happens to us all the time. Examples include a guy who sent us all sorts of legal-looking documents that demanded the prize from a drawing because we had an advertising headline that said “Enter to Win.” Based on the idea of manipulating language to suit one’s needs, he claimed that by saying “Enter to Win” we were saying all you had to do was enter and you’d win. Never mind that anyone honest and bright enough to understand the English language knows that it’s a common phrase to indicate that you can enter and possibly win something (a web search revealed that this “gentleman” engaged in this practice all over the place. I guess some people have nothing better to do with their time than waste other people’s).

All of us should take a stand against those kinds of tactics, because they cost everyone time and money, and all they’re trying to do is get something for nothing. Another individual filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (simply used as a threat to get us to give him something for nothing) because he claimed the technicality of our language indicated that he didn’t have to buy a computer from us to get the free software we were offering. Never mind that everyone else (including him) understood full well it was a promotion for those who bought a computer from us.

Another tactic is to spot a pricing error, for example on our website, and demand the product for that price no matter what. Laws are in place to protect consumers from “bait and switch” tactics, but far more common is when there is simple human error. Seeing a $1.00 price for a $1,000 item and demanding that the merchant has to honor it is not legally viable if there was no intent to deceive. But the “get something for nothings” will scream and shout and threaten just so they can benefit even when the more reasonable among us wouldn’t dream of trying such a thing.

As an example, we price hundreds upon hundreds of prices for Macs on our website. Once in a while, a glitch occurs whereby the price on the site is incorrect. It can happen a number of different ways, and we are always endeavoring to make them 100% accurate, but hey, we’re human.

There are those who will stand in a store and berate or cajole a poor employee into honoring an incorrect price, even when it can be pointed out how obvious it is that it’s just an honest mistake. If you’ve been pointed to this portion of our site because of exactly that… knock it off. Really. If we priced something for $500 that should’ve been $1,000, we’re really sorry you got excited for a moment, but that’s all it’s cost you. I really doubt you’d want $500 taken out of your pocket every time you made a typing error, but that’s what you’re asking us to do. There’s no bait & switch, we’re not trying to disappoint people with mistakes, it just happens once in a while. So decide on whether our real price works for you, not whether you can argue long or loudly enough to save more money than other, more reasonable people, would.

Hey, we appreciate your being in our store, but we’re all about the human element in business, and the human element means that we sometimes make honest mistakes. To put it another way, if you can provide irrefutable evidence that you’ve never made a mistake in your life, bring it in, and we’ll honor the price. ;)

I guess you could say the people who do that are often banking on the idea that the company is big and dumb and will honor something unreasonable just because they are big and dumb. We hope that our customers appreciate that The Mac Store isn’t a dumb company, because while you might be able to take advantage of someone dumb, overall your relationship with that company won’t be a very beneficial one, because, well, they’re dumb!

Often individuals will threaten the use of the BBB (sometimes I feel sorry for those poor people) or any other bad publicity they can drum up, or mention relatives that are lawyers (or sometimes worst yet, are lawyers themselves), or venomous blogs or the creation of websites to cry about how bad the company is, just in the hopes that the company will look at the potential lost revenue and kowtow to the lower cost of giving them something for nothing.

At The Mac Store, we feel it’s our social responsibility not to allow that to happen. When companies allow that to happen, they open themselves up to what’s becoming an ever more increasing strategy to sue, or threaten to sue, someone, knowing full well the settlement will cost the respondent less than the lawsuit. Unfortunately, a lot of companies are run only by the bottom line, so they look at X cost vs. Y settlement and decide on the Y. We think that’s very bad social policy because it encourages it to happen over and over again. It’s nothing but legal extortion.

We also believe every company does have a social responsibility, just as individuals do, and we act accordingly.

So if you’re thinking of doing any of the above with us, you better plan on a lack of success. We’re very nice and honest people with very strong social consciences and we delight in making customers happy in every way possible, but we don’t absorb the cost of those who try and get something for nothing and pass it along to our honest customers. And we strongly encourage anyone who runs or works within other companies to do the same. If everyone takes a stand against that kind of “legal” thievery, everyone will be better off, so we’ll do all we can in our little corner of the world to make that happen.

Basically all of the above really ticks off the “get something for nothing” crowd. But you know what? We don’t care. We’d much rather spend our time making our honest customers happy than waste it on those who think scamming companies is an okay thing to do.

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On our relationship with Apple

The reason we’ll discuss this is because we think the public would be better off thinking about the total retail landscape whenever they make a purchase.

It should be an obvious maxim that if a group of people only behaves selfishly, whether overt or not, that the entire group will suffer. Unfortunately, the free enterprise system (which we’re ardent supporters of) encourages a high degree of selfish mentality with advertising and posturing that screams, “Buy from us! We have the lowest price!”

At the same time, we’re also being bombarded with promises of great customer service and support. However, you simply can’t have the world’s best prices as well as the world’s best support. A healthy economy will have good selections of both business styles to cater to those who simply want the best price as well as those who care a bit more about customer service, and are willing to pay a little more to get that service.

Unfortunately, with the internet and the subsequent direct sales being made by manufacturers (such as Apple), the overall pricing structures out there have been “pancaked” into a much more narrow stratus than what was common pre-internet. However, the expectations of customer service haven’t dropped along with the prices. Consumers want their prices and their service, and something has to give.

The reason this becomes a problem is when it’s combined with the entitlement expectations of the public. If everyone said “I don’t care about any support and I understand that when I buy something I own it, and buyer beware and all that,” then we’d have a retail landscape filled only with those doing everything they can to make their prices lower. Of course, very few people actually say that (or behave that way when they have a problem).

But we’re in an era where that whole equation is still being figured out, and in the meantime there are casualties in consumer-to-merchant relations across the board. Twenty years from now, we’ll probably look back on this time and think “phew! That must have been a crazy time to be doing business!” We believe its time for consumers to be more aware of the power they have to ensure continued offerings of both price-driven and service-driven businesses.

What does all that have to do with our relationship with Apple? Well, as virtually everyone knows by now, Apple sells direct via their website and their retail stores. It’s a good deal for Apple, because they get to bypass the middleman and keep their entire margin. We don’t blame them for this, but we do think consumers should stop and think for a second. When you buy direct from the manufacturer, you have now narrowed your service and support choices to only one company. When you buy from a reseller, you now have both the manufacturer and the reseller on board to help you with your issues.

But a more global outlook would tell you that it is in your best interest to vote with your dollars (because that’s really what spending money with any merchant is: you’re voting with your dollars to say you want that merchant to stay in business) in such a way that your options are kept open. One example might be a consideration you should make when buying from someone like Wal-Mart. While Wal-Mart has many fine attributes, their success at promoting low prices has resulted in a severe change in the retail landscape in many areas, whereby ultimately the only place you really can go is Wal-Mart. Today that’s probably not a hugely bad thing, but ultimately, do you really want to vote with your dollars to say all you ever want is Wal-Mart? Consumers should demand choices, and they can do that by voting with their dollars in socially responsible ways.

It’s even truer with the Apple retail landscape. If you shop direct with Apple, you’re essentially voting for there to be only one place to go to buy Apple equipment. Because believe me, as insanely great as their products are, they are still a company driven by the bottom line, so if they ever see that they could handle most of their business direct and not utilize resellers, they’d do it in a heartbeat. The only thing to prevent that is for consumers to support resellers, which gives them more access to more products, more options for service, more places to buy, and frankly, usually better prices and more personalized local service.

The Mac Store is one of a group of Apple Specialists, so designated by Apple as a reseller who specializes in and provides a high degree of support, service and knowledge of Apple products. We strongly encourage you to support an Apple Specialist when you buy, whether from us or someone else. By doing so, you support long-term choices that will benefit your experience with Apple products in the long run.

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On buying local

Most of us have seen local retailers throwing out a “Buy Local!” slogan. If you don’t give it much thought, that slogan really doesn’t have a lot of resonance. In other words, buying local is fine, but if the prices are high and the service is lousy, why the heck should you shop at that store?

But as a factor to blend into your buying decisions and shopping habits, we think supporting locally-based companies is a good thing for each one of us. There is an organization, the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), who has more experience talking about that kind of thing. The issues go far beyond “just because we’re local.” A local-business-supported community will prosper for each of us far greater than the big-box-Fortune-500 landscape that too much of America is turning into.

Anyway, we’d encourage you to read the following… it may actually change the way you shop.

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