Apple Loyalty Program

So I finally got my hands on a the new Macbook, finally resorting to Craigslist to find someone who had pre-ordered and pay them a small premium. I was going to write a review, and still will, but ended up writing a bunch on the process of buying things from Apple as a loyal customer.

I have done the second-market Craigslist dance with probably 90% of new Apple tablets and phones before, but never for a laptop. I’m sure every ounce of effort has been expended to capitalize on the hype of the announcements and ship as many of these as possible, but this Macbook/Watch roll-out still seems especially rough with the stores having zero inventory or knowledge of if/when they’re getting anything in, and ship dates now slipping into the summer. There’s a deeper issue though: it speaks to a lack of Apple’s knowledge and connection to their customers, even though they have all the data.

A great restaurant will track every time you’ve eaten there, how much you spent, your preferences, and use that to prioritize reservations and tailor service on subsequent visits. Airlines, for their terrible reputation, actually are decent at this too with their loyalty programs. On United I’m a Global Services level flyer and get some really nice perks as a result, with the knowledge that if I don’t fly a certain amount of miles and spend a certain amount of dollars with them in a calendar year I’ll lose those perks (as I did for a few months earlier this year) and so when choosing between two flights to somewhere I’m more likely to pick the United one. (Also I think some of airlines bad rep is undeserved, they are flying human beings miles in the air inside tin cans where the cost of an error is catastrophic, everything is highly regulated, and many service factors are literally dependent on the weather.)

I am an unapologetic, unrepentant Apple customer ever since I could afford it. One of the first things I did when I got my job at CNET in 2005 was upgrade my Mom from the inexpensive Linux box I built for her (all I could afford) to a Mac Mini. I get almost every new version of everything, including usually 4-6 phones a year (myself and family), at least a dozen laptops, iPads, Thunderbolt displays, iMacs, Mac Pros… at this point I’m probably a cumulative $100k customer of Apple, in addition to the millions we spend on Apple hardware at Automattic (everyone gets a new computer when they join, and we refresh them every 18-24 months, and a special W version at after 4 years of tenure). And I’m late to the game! There are Apple customers today who bought their first product decades ago.

However when pre-orders creak open at midnight, or people start queueing, the order of access to the latest and greatest from Apple is by whoever shows up first, or now online it’s essentially random depending on how lucky you are to load and complete the checkout process. In some ways there’s a beautiful equality to that, but for example when I went with Om in London for the 2013 iPhone release, 95% of the line was people just there to buy and flip it, either locally or ship overseas — the very front of the line was Apple lovers, but in the rest of the line I saw people using Android.

There is some sort of rank ordering inside Apple — Karl Lagerfied and Beyonce have Apple Watches already, reviewers from Gruber to Pogue get devices a few weeks early to test — but imagine if there was an Apple Loyalty program for the rest of us? More than almost any other company Apple has been sustained through tough times by the belief and devotion of their best customers. It would be great if you could earn status with monetary (dollars spent) and non-monetary (impact on the world) points that give you priority ordering access, faster Genius bar appointments, maybe even access to events.

Maybe the truth is Apple doesn’t need to do that, I’m going to keep using them because they make the best products, and when things are rough in the early days (like with the new Macbook, a few recent versions of OS X and iOS) I stick it out because I know it’ll get better. To my knowledge no other tech product maker has done a great loyalty program before, though there are hints in Asian players like Xiaomi and OnePlus. Most luxury brands from Hermes to Patek are also bad at this, because they don’t understand technology and data. But how cool would it be if Apple did reward, or even just recognize, their most loyal customers?

19 thoughts on “Apple Loyalty Program

  1. The flipping problem has some comparisons to event tickets, where scalpers take over early sales and then act as middlemen. At minimum Apple could try to reduce how easy it is to do so that more genuine customers get served on release day, but the sold-out phenomenon works to their advantage and generates PR – so they have motivation not to fix the problem.

    btw typo: “(My gadget budget One of the first things”

  2. So yeah, guy walks into an Apple store…flappers don’t even recognize Matt? Scoble had a similar experience with call in support.

    I guess our kind is de-regulated to pawn shops and CL lol.

    Congrats on the new computer, I’m coming up soon for one as well!

  3. I’ve heard via anecdotes that Hermes does have a loyalty program for their much-sought after Birkin bags. On the tech side, most bloggers worth their salt should be covered by good PR. I’m not sure if Apple is lacking in that area.

    One more typo: in your last paragraph, ‘Xiomi’ should be ‘Xiaomi’.

  4. It’s an interesting time for Apple. The Apple Watch and the new MacBook are two new products post Steve Jobs. Yes i count MacBook as a whole new product category.

    Even with an Apple loyalty program there could be delays (for now) for some of the following reasons.

    The two new products and product categories go on sale under a new retail boss. This is the first time Angela Ahrendts is in charge for something so big.

    Apple or all of the executive team can’t afford to lose. The Apple Watch is very important. Thus all the celebrity endorsements and hype well before the product goes on sale.

    What is also different with the Apple Watch and the new MacBook is the way Apple makes those products. For Apple Watch the process is meticulous ( ) . The new MacBook comes with new battery technology, new keyboard and the new Force Touch trackpad.

    If there is a single component shortage the whole product line is affected. Maybe the sapphire glass fiasco played a role here.

    It could also be that Angela Ahrendts wants to transform Apple to something different. Selling gold watches doesn’t go well with lines outside stores. Apple might be transitioning already.. to a loyalty program

  5. I agree 100% with you.
    I buy every new product from Apple but this time I will NOT buy an Apple watch.
    This “online only” is a non sense. I like to go to a store and buy the product, it’s my treat, is the way I like to spend my money. Be pampered for 5 minutes and leave the store with an Apple branded bag with my new toy inside.
    Do I need an Apple watch? No! I don’t even wear a watch! But I would have both one.
    Sorry Apple but I will pass on this. I am sure lots of people will pass because of the on-line-only policy.
    I am sure most loyal Apple Clients will agree with Matt.
    I don’t know who is responsible for this new “policy” but I hope Apple will read Matt post and will revert this.

  6. I’ve been an Apple Fanboy for years, but I think perhaps I’m really more of a Steve Jobs fan. Apple has been slipping as of late. Steve had them flying so high they have a long way to fall before they become *bad*, but still… I’ve seen bugs and issues with products recently where I tell myself “Steve wouldn’t have let this out the door”. But then again, I recall “antennagate” and the cube mac, and wonder if my glasses are a bit rosey.

    A “loyal customer” program? I could see it. People who preorder a new computer at least every two years are first in line when the new models come out. They wouldn’t even need discounts or anything like that — hell, being Apple they could probably get away with charging for it! 😉

    1. I’m definitely an overall Apple fan — there were plenty of problems before 2011, and have been some good ones after, but it’s the overall pace of iteration and response to problems that put them so far ahead of their contemporaries.

    2. A paid program would make money. Something similar to Amazon Prime where you pay an annual premium in return for perks like early preordering, etc… I’m not advocating for it necessarily, but people would pay for it.

  7. Back in the dark days for Apple in the mid-90s, corporate accounts were definitely supplied with new stuff and software before it hit the streets.

  8. Having a loyalty program would be pretty awesome. I wouldn’t expect them to do it anytime soon unless they saw that there competetors are doing it. It’s all about maximizing profit. I know some car compenies such as Mazda have a loyalty customer discount type of deal.

  9. Apple has a legacy of making amazing things, but shipping them? Not so much. My experience with them has been consistently frustrating and I feel that they should adopt a smarter, more competent customer service program. If they managed to treat their customers as well as some of the hotels do – e.g. Hyatt or Omni people would stop using androids.

    BTW I noticed something really interesting at WordCamp Lancaster 2015. Around the breakfast/lunch table where I sat, the Marketing focused attendees had their iPhones on the table. And the developers all had Android devices in their hands.

  10. Most Apple lovers are loyal to the product because of the quality, not necessarily because of the relationship they have with Apple. Which is good for everyone, but there still is a piece missing.

    I think Apple tends to lead from the front. They drop new products as they go and their followers pick them up as we march. And while a loyalty program would be nice, I think Apple could start by simply turning around and not keeping their backs to their fans.

    I will always be an Apple customer but it has always felt like I a one sided relationship. The game they play with iPhone releases is a good example. If you aren’t following the rumors it’s still all too easy to walk into Verizon, buy an iPhone then a couple weeks later your shiny new phone is out of date and has just lost a ton of value.

    I’d love to see Apple be more empathetic to their customers needs. The glamour of having the best and most exclusive products on the market can’t last for Apple forever. They need a solid relationship with their customers, and then hopefully they can build on that for loyal customers.

  11. Also…

    A great restaurant will track every time you’ve eaten there, how much you spent, your preferences, and use that to prioritize reservations and tailor service on subsequent visits.

    This is happening more then most people know. A local Rhode Island based company is able to “cookie” credit card purchases to track analytics, loyalty and more.

  12. Apple used to have ProCare superseded by JointVenture. It was like a preferred customer for existing products, but alas the past. Maybe your best bet is to contact your local Apple Store Business team and chat about a how you can get the products quicker without a hassle or they could get you in touch with someone on an enterprise level. Best of luck to you.

  13. Someone needs to make an old school phone call. Don’t they know that Automattic is carrying nearly 25% of the Web on its back? Really surprised to read this… In my arena, select musicians and reviewers are offered free gear and beta test opportunities all the time. I don’t know… I do know this: Chicago loves WordPress! 😉

  14. I’ve thought for a while that Apple should have a subscription program for its high rollers. Say, $10,000 a year, and you get one of the first of everything, once a year: Laptop, phone, tablet, desktop. Maybe watch (but not the $17k version). With, you know, special color or engraving or something. I know a bunch of people who would eagerly sign up. (For the record: Not me, but I still think it’d be cool.)

  15. A lack of a loyalty program keeps the incentives clean and clear. If I buy the new iPhone, it won’t be be because I get it 17th one free or that I get it first in line, but because I think it’s a great product.

    Switching between loyalty programs is much harder than switching between a single products and this simple fact harms the long-term quality of the product.

    Airlines are a great example. Switching away from a status with one airline to another is not trivial and many travelers put up with lower quality and higher prices, because of “loyalty”. At the end of the day having the perks may be worth the trade-off, but it erodes the incentives for the companies to build a better product.

  16. Totally agree on this Matt! It’s amazing how much I’ve also spent with Apple! Thankfully there can be hacks around this such as using certain types of credit cards and buying Apple products under your business account.