Are Apple stores just too crowded?

Is there ever a time when an Apple store isn't populated by hordes of people? Does this diminish the Apple retail experience?

Last Sunday morning at my local Apple store. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The best kind of golf course is one where it's only you and the lovely lady who just took her CEO ex-husband to the cleaners.

Who wants to go to a bar where it takes you half an hour to get a drink -- and even then it's been poured with all the attention of a child being asked to clean their shoes?

Yet Apple stores are beginning to resemble farmer's markets just before Thanksgiving. Or Wal-Mart just after -- minus the punching, kicking, and gouging.

Have you ever walked past one that isn't crammed full of the heady and head-bowed? Do you sometimes feel as if you'll try another time because there doesn't seem space to breathe in there? How long do you have to wait before you can even glide your finger down an iPad Mini?

It's not as if it's Apple's fault that these places are more popular than churches. The company has made products that people want to ogle, stroke, and buy.

It's made its stores sleek with wide aisles and products that are tastefully laid out and spread out.

Still, it's becoming a little much.

In my last two visits to an Apple store -- one on a Sunday morning and one on a Tuesday morning -- it was the sheer noise of human voices that was off-putting. The talking, talking, talking can put you off walking, walking, walking in.

I asked a nice man in a blue T-shirt when was the best time of day to peacefully wander around the store and browse.

"10:01 a.m.," he told me. It seemed that I might have 30 to 40 minutes grace at that time, before people start wandering in to check their e-mails, make dance videos, or whatever it is they prefer to do there.

Despite Apple's firing of retail head John Browett , its stores are performing very well.

Moreover, analysis by Asymco shows that the average visitors per employee number has actually dropped over time. Apple knows it must staff these places with enough people to address the throng.

This, though, has the sad by-product of increasing the number of bodies in there at all times.

What could Apple reasonably do about this?

It could station bouncers outside, create a permanent line with a red velvet rope, and declare that the store's capacity has been limited. It could also simply take over the mall stores on either side of the Apple store, knock the walls down and create breathing room.

But perhaps Apple doesn't want to do that. Perhaps it prefers a certain sweat-inducing, nerve-jangling atmosphere that serves to symbolize the brand's never-ending excitement.

Retailers love to measure their performance by the square inch. Sometimes, though, the squeeze gets too much. Will Apple ever reach that point? Or has it already?

All a little much? Chris Matyszczyk/CNET
 

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