It all started with an insult.
An Apple store customer in Australia complained that a store employee had “questioned my intelligence” by insisting he use Apple Pay for a transaction.
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That customer was fed up with the pushiness and walked out.
I, however, wanted to help him. I wanted to see if this behavior was widespread. So I walked into a couple of Apple stores to learn whether its salespeople really are incentivized to push certain products or services.
None would admit to any sort of commission payments.
I did, though, receive word from former Apple store employees who said, in essence, that these salespeople may not appreciate everything that’s really going on.
These former employees revealed a little more of the innards of store operations and how certain products or services might, indeed, get special attention.
A former senior store employee told me: “The frontline retail Apple employees aren’t paid on commission or receive a bonus. From a paycheck-to-paycheck perspective, there’s no real incentive to push product A vs product B.”
However, he said, each store’s Leadership Team is under pressure and incentivized: “The direction or pressure for employees to sell a certain product comes from the retail leadership team. This means the Store Leader, Senior Leaders, and the Product Zone [Sales Manager] Leader.”
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He explained: “The Store Leader receives a breakdown of metrics and goals in the form of a Market Report from their Market Leader [regional manager]. Retail leadership teams do, in fact, receive a performance bonus based on quarterly sales results, a fact which is never explicitly revealed to the frontline teams.”
Ah, so it’s a case of slightly more subtle tactics? It seems that, sometimes for possibly idiosyncratic reasons, a store might sell far more, say, third-party accessories than many other stores. On the other hand, it might lag in iPhone sales.
Subtle psychological pressure is then applied, he said, in order to redress the balance. It’s all about “directing customers to the product that’s lagging,” without actually pushing that product.
How does this “direction” of customers work? “Consultative selling,” said one former sales manager.
He explained: “After an interaction had concluded, I would frequently check in with the Specialist and ask them, ‘What 3 things have you learned about your customer today?’. The Specialists who learned and remembered their customers’ names, and knew what they did for work, did very well. Apple began really pushing their in-store business services around 2014-15. This could lead to 5- or even 6- figure sales if you are able to close a local small or medium-sized business. Even better, if you knew the customers’ hobbies, you were likely to be by far the more successful salesperson.”
As for leadership bonuses they aren’t, said my sources, dependent on what specific percentage of sales go through Apple Pay or how many customers buy AppleCare. Which doesn’t mean that AppleCare and Accessory attach rates aren’t closely monitored and, yes, pushed. There’s a lot of profit in the little things.
The Power of The Crowd
So why might the insulted customer have been pressured to use Apple Pay? Well, it may well have something to do with the crowded nature of Apple stores, apparently.
Said one former manager: “The push for Apple Pay comes from the familiar dilemma of being in a crowded Apple Store and not having any idea how to get cashed out for that lightning cable in your hand. At a senior level, Apple leadership has decided, based mostly on customer satisfaction metrics, that customers appreciate the ability to pay for something themselves. I think they thought there’s a certain cool factor there like Amazon’s cashierless stores.”
Also: How Apple is messing with people’s heads
Apple following the taste-free pirates at Amazon? Can this be? Still, about the alleged pushiness. This is where the fun comes in.
“This [Apple Pay push] led to ‘fun challenges’ laid out by store leadership to challenge people on the sales floor to get a certain amount of Apple Pay transactions done,” a former manager told me. “You can imagine that if this is done skillfully you can engage a customer, get them to download the Apple Store app — a valuable touchpoint for future transactions and services — and have them feel involved in the process.”
And if it isn’t done right?
Another former Store Leader explained: “We were all pushed to push Apple Pay in every transaction. These measurements were brought up in employee reviews and promotions. They were usually focused around the behavior observations. If you blew the behavior out of the water, you increased your chances of being favored.”
That wasn’t the experience of other Store Leaders. One told me: “I have promoted or given raises to a lot of sales staff over the years, and not a single time has that [Apple Pay] ever even been a part of the conversation between myself and my peers in determining a promotion.”
Pressure Pushing Down On Me.
Perhaps some Store Leaders react to pressure better than others. In any case, I was told, some salespeople are simply better than others.
A former Store Leader told me: “Employees with high Apple Pay transaction completions are also usually the top performing in sales for all other products, as well as having the highest customer satisfaction scores. Is this because Apple Pay is the hardest sell of them all? I’ll leave that to you and your readers.”
It could be, then, that Apple’s just like every other corporation, with varying employee performance and some employees vying to be favored by their superiors. And there you were thinking everything at Apple was magical and revolutionary.
Naturally, I asked Apple for its view on how it incentivizes store staff. The company declined to comment.
I sense Apple is very keen to make clear it would never incentivize staff by offering a certain percentage to a certain salesperson for selling a certain product.
That simply wouldn’t be consistent with the way the brand presents itself as customer-focused above all else.
It surely wouldn’t be surprising, however, that at least some sort of bonuses are paid to at least some staff for exceeding broader performance goals.
Ultimately, Apple’s stores have been one of the most powerful pillars of the company’s success. The fact that you can go to your local mall, stroke the products and even get a gadget fixed is, to the ordinary human, a truly valuable feature.
Moreover, I’ve generally found Apple store staff all over the country to be engaging, efficient and remarkably honest.
Yet as Apple’s business veers toward greater profit coming from the services side — and with its head of HR now in charge of the stores — could a little more pressure be applied to all store staff in order to send those services numbers even higher?
It had better be subtle pressure.
Instagram’s new test lets you choose if you want to hide ‘Likes,’ Facebook test to follow – TechCrunch
Instagram today will begin a new test around hiding Like counts on users’ posts, following its experiments in this area which first began in 2019. This time, however, Instagram is not enabling or disabling the feature for more users. Instead, it will begin to explore a new option where users get to decide what works best for them — either choosing to see the Like counts on others’ posts, or not. Users will also be able to turn off Like counts on their own posts, if they choose. Facebook additionally confirmed it will begin to test a similar experience on its own social network.
Instagram says tests involving Like counts were deprioritized after Covid-19 hit, as the company focused on other efforts needed to support its community. (Except for that brief period this March where Instagram accidentally hid Likes for more users due to a bug.)
The company says it’s now revisiting the feedback it collected from users during the tests and found a wide range of opinions. Originally, the idea with hiding Like counts was about reducing the anxiety and embarrassment that surrounds posting content on the social network. That is, people would stress over whether their post would receive enough Likes to be deemed “popular.” This problem was particularly difficult for Instagram’s younger users, who care much more about what their peers think — so much so that they would take down posts that didn’t receive “enough” Likes.
In addition, the removal of Likes helped reduce the sort of herd mentality that drives people to like things that are already popular, as opposed to judging the content for themselves.
But during tests, not everyone agreed the removal of Likes was a change for the better. Some people said they still wanted to see Like counts so they could track what was trending and popular. The argument for keeping Likes was more prevalent among the influencer community, where creators used the metric in order to communicate their value to partners, like brands and advertisers. Here, lower engagement rates on posts could directly translate to lower earnings for these creators.
Both arguments for and against Likes have merit, which is why Instagram’s latest test will put the choice back into users’ own hands.
This new test will be enabled for a small percentage of users globally on Instagram, the company says.
If you’ve been opted in, you’ll find a new option to hide the Likes from within the app’s Settings. This will prevent you from seeing Likes on other people’s posts as you scroll through your Instagram Feed. As a creator, you’ll be able to hide Likes on a per-post basis via the three-dot “…” menu at the top. Even if Likes are disabled publicly, creators are still able to view Like counts and other engagements through analytics, just as they did before.
The tests on Facebook, which has also been testing Like count removals for some time, have not yet begun. Facebook tells TechCrunch those will roll out in the weeks ahead.
Making Like counts an choice may initially seem like it could help to address everyone’s needs. But in reality, if the wider influencer community chooses to continue to use Likes as a currency that translates to popularity and job opportunities, then other users will continue to do the same.
Ultimately, communities themselves have to decide what sort of tone they want to set, preferably from the outset — before you’ve attracted millions of users who will be angry when you later try to change course.
There’s also a question as to whether social media users are really hungry for an “Like-free” safer space. For years we’ve seen startups focused on building an “anti-Instagram” of sorts, where they drop one or more Instagram features, like algorithmic feeds, Likes and other engagement mechanisms, such as Minutiae, Vero, Dayflash, Oggl, and now, newcomers like troubled Dispo, or under-the-radar Herd. But Instagram has yet to fail because of an anti-Instagram rival. If anything is a threat, it’s a new type of social network entirely, like TikTok –where it should be noted getting Likes and engagements is still very important for creator success.
Instagram didn’t say how long the new tests would last or if and when the features would roll out more broadly.
“We’re testing this on Instagram to start, but we’re also exploring a similar experience for Facebook. We will learn from this new small test and have more to share soon,” a Facebook company spokesperson said.
Ireland opens GDPR investigation into Facebook leak – TechCrunch
Facebook’s lead data supervisor in the European Union has opened an investigation into whether the tech giant violated data protection rules vis-a-vis the leak of data reported earlier this month.
Here’s the Irish Data Protection Commission’s statement:
“The Data Protection Commission (DPC) today launched an own-volition inquiry pursuant to section 110 of the Data Protection Act 2018 in relation to multiple international media reports, which highlighted that a collated dataset of Facebook user personal data had been made available on the internet. This dataset was reported to contain personal data relating to approximately 533 million Facebook users worldwide. The DPC engaged with Facebook Ireland in relation to this reported issue, raising queries in relation to GDPR compliance to which Facebook Ireland furnished a number of responses.
The DPC, having considered the information provided by Facebook Ireland regarding this matter to date, is of the opinion that one or more provisions of the GDPR and/or the Data Protection Act 2018 may have been, and/or are being, infringed in relation to Facebook Users’ personal data.
Accordingly, the Commission considers it appropriate to determine whether Facebook Ireland has complied with its obligations, as data controller, in connection with the processing of personal data of its users by means of the Facebook Search, Facebook Messenger Contact Importer and Instagram Contact Importer features of its service, or whether any provision(s) of the GDPR and/or the Data Protection Act 2018 have been, and/or are being, infringed by Facebook in this respect.”
Facebook has been contacted for comment.
The move comes after the European Commission intervened to apply pressure on Ireland’s data protection commissioner. Justice commissioner, Didier Reynders, tweeted Monday that he had spoken with Helen Dixon about the Facebook data leak.
“The Commission continues to follow this case closely and is committed to supporting national authorities,” he added, going on to urge Facebook to “cooperate actively and swiftly to shed light on the identified issues”.
A spokeswoman for the Commission confirmed the virtual meeting between Reynders and Dixon, saying: “Dixon informed the Commissioner about the issues at stake and the different tracks of work to clarify the situation.
“They both urge Facebook to cooperate swiftly and to share the necessary information. It is crucial to shed light on this leak that has affected millions of European citizens.”
“It is up to the Irish data protection authority to assess this case. The Commission remains available if support is needed. The situation will also have to be further analyzed for the future. Lessons should be learned,” she added.
The revelation that a vulnerability in Facebook’s platform enabled unidentified ‘malicious actors’ to extract the personal data (including email addresses, mobile phone numbers and more) of more than 500 million Facebook accounts up until September 2019 — when Facebook claims it fixed the issue — only emerged in the wake of the data being found for free download on a hacker forum earlier this month.
Despite the European Union’s data protection framework (the GDPR) baking in a regime of data breach notifications — with the risk of hefty fines for compliance failure — Facebook did not inform its lead EU data supervisory when it found and fixed the issue. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) was left to find out in the press, like everyone else.
Nor has Facebook individually informed the 533M+ users that their information was taken without their knowledge or consent, saying last week it has no plans to do so — despite the heightened risk for affected users of spam and phishing attacks.
Privacy experts have, meanwhile, been swift to point out that the company has still not faced any regulatory sanction under the GDPR — with a number of investigations ongoing into various Facebook businesses and practices and no decisions yet issued in those cases by Ireland’s DPC.
Last month the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the implementation of the GDPR which expressed “great concern” over the functioning of the mechanism — raising particular concern over the Irish data protection authority by writing that it “generally closes most cases with a settlement instead of a sanction and that cases referred to Ireland in 2018 have not even reached the stage of a draft decision pursuant to Article 60(3) of the GDPR”.
The latest Facebook data scandal further amps up the pressure on the DPC — providing further succour to critics of the GDPR who argue the regulation is unworkable under the current foot-dragging enforcement structure, given the major bottlenecks in Ireland (and Luxembourg) where many tech giants choose to locate regional HQ.
On Thursday Reynders made his concern over Ireland’s response to the Facebook data leak public, tweeting to say the Commission had been in contact with the DPC.
He does have reason to be personally concerned. Earlier last week Politico reported that Reynders’ own digits had been among the cache of leaked data, along with those of the Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel — and “dozens of EU officials”. However the problem of weak GDPR enforcement affects everyone across the bloc — some 446M people whose rights are not being uniformly and vigorously upheld.
“A strong enforcement of GDPR is of key importance,” Reynders also remarked on Twitter, urging Facebook to “fully cooperate with Irish authorities”.
Last week Italy’s data protection commission also called on Facebook to immediately offer a service for Italian users to check whether they had been affected by the breach. But Facebook made no public acknowledgment or response to the call. Under the GDPR’s one-stop-shop mechanism the tech giant can limit its regulatory exposure by direct dealing only with its lead EU data supervisor in Ireland.
A two-year Commission review of how the data protection regime is functioning, which reported last summer, already drew attention to problems with patchy enforcement. So a lack of progress on unblocking GDPR bottlenecks is a growing problem for the Commission — which is in the midst of proposing a package of additional digital regulations. That makes the enforcement point a very pressing one as EU lawmakers are being asked how new digital rules will be upheld if existing ones keep being trampled on?
It’s certainly notable that the EU’s executive has proposed a different, centralized enforcement structure for incoming pan-EU legislation targeted at digital services and tech giants. Albeit, getting agreement from all the EU’s institutions and elected representatives on how to reshape platform oversight looks challenging.
And in the meanwhile the data leaks continue: Motherboard reported Friday on another alarming leak of Facebook data it found being made accessible via a bot on the Telegram messaging platform that gives out the names and phone numbers of users who have liked a Facebook page (in exchange for a fee unless the page has had less than 100 likes).
The publication said this data appears to be separate to the 533M+ scraped dataset — after it ran checks against the larger dataset via the breach advice site, haveibeenpwned. It also asked Alon Gal, the person who discovered the aforementioned leaked Facebook dataset being offered for free download online, to compare data obtained via the bot and he did not find any matches.
We contacted Facebook about the source of this leaked data and will update this report with any response.
In his tweet about the 500M+ Facebook data leak last week, Reynders made reference to the Europe Data Protection Board (EDPB), a steering body comprised of representatives from Member State data protection agencies which works to ensure a consistent application of the GDPR.
However the body does not lead on GDPR enforcement — so it’s not clear why he would invoke it. Optics is one possibility, if he was trying to encourage a perception that the EU has vigorous and uniform enforcement structures where people’s data is concerned.
“Under the GDPR, enforcement and the investigation of potential violations lies with the national supervisory authorities. The EDPB does not have investigative powers per se and is not involved in investigations at the national level. As such, the EDPB cannot comment on the processing activities of specific companies,” an EDPB spokeswoman told us when we enquired about Reynders’ remarks.
But she also noted the Commission attends plenary meetings of the EDPB — adding it’s possible there will be an exchange of views among members about the Facebook leak case in the future, as attending supervisory authorities “regularly exchange information on cases at the national level”.
Facebook tests video speed dating events with ‘Sparked’ – TechCrunch
Facebook confirmed it’s testing a video speed-dating app called Sparked, after the app’s website was spotted by The Verge. Unlike dating app giants such as Tinder, Sparked users don’t swipe on people they like or direct message others. Instead, they cycle through a series of short video dates during an event to make connections with others. The product itself is being developed by Facebook’s internal R&D group, the NPE Team, but had not been officially announced.
“Sparked is an early experiment by New Product Experimentation,” a spokesperson for Facebook’s NPE Team confirmed to TechCrunch. “We’re exploring how video-first speed dating can help people find love online.”
They also characterized the app as undergoing a “small, external beta test” designed to generate insights about how video dating could work, in order to improve people’s experiences with Facebook products. The app is not currently live on app stores, only the web.
Sparked is, however, preparing to test the experience at a Chicago Date Night event on Wednesday, The Verge’s report noted.
During the sign-up process, Sparked tells users to “be kind,” “keep this a safe space,” and “show up.” A walkthrough of how the app also works explains that participants will meet face to face during a series of 4-minute video dates, which they can then follow up with a 10-minute date if all goes well. They can additionally choose to exchange contact info, like phone numbers, emails, or Instagram handles.
Facebook, of course, already offers a dating app product, Facebook Dating.
That experience, which takes place inside Facebook itself, first launched in 2018 outside the U.S., and then arrived in the U.S. the following year. In the early days of the pandemic, Facebook announced it would roll out a sort of virtual dating experience that leveraged Messenger for video chats — a move came at a time when many other dating apps in the market also turned to video to serve users under lockdowns. These video experiences could potentially compete with Sparked, unless the new product’s goal is to become another option inside Facebook Dating itself.
Despite the potential reach, Facebook’s success in the dating market is not guaranteed, some analysts have warned. People don’t think of Facebook as a place to go meet partners, and the dating product today is still separated from the main Facebook app for privacy purposes. That means it can’t fully leverage Facebook’s network effects to gain traction, as users in this case may not want their friends and family to know about their dating plans.
Facebook’s competition in dating is fierce, too. Even the pandemic didn’t slow down the dating app giants, like Match Group or newly IPO’d Bumble. Tinder’s direct revenues increased 18% year-over-year to $1.4 billion in 2020, Match Group reported, for instance. Direct revenues from the company’s non-Tinder brands collectively increased 16%. And Bumble topped its revenue estimates in its first quarter as a public company, pulling in $165.6 million in the fourth quarter.
Facebook, on the other hand, has remained fairly quiet about its dating efforts. Though the company cited over 1.5 billion matches in the 20 countries it’s live, a “match” doesn’t indicate a successful pairing — in fact, that sort of result may not be measured. But it’s early days for the product, which only rolled out to European markets this past fall.
The NPE Team’s experiment in speed dating could ultimately help to inform Facebook of what sort of new experiences a dating app user may want to use, and how.
The company didn’t say if or when Sparked would roll out more broadly.
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