Apple store in Asti - an Italian retail experience
By Richard Edwards
My old iMac was getting to the end of its life, it was time for an upgrade. But where to buy? Getting stuff delivered to my home can be a nightmare as our little village is straddled between the provinces of Asti and Cuneo, so we're often told by courier companies refusing to deliver that our house doesn't exist, which is always a little worrying, having paid so much for it. The alternative is to go to the Apple Store in Le Gru, a large shopping centre in Grugliasco, Turin. I can truly say I hated the place since I first step foot in it ten years ago. The parking is terrible, it's always overcrowded and it just has a bad feeling about it.
So, Media World Asti. Hmmm.. I don't mind buying smaller things there but the thought of paying the equivalent of two month's wages of one the hopeless store staff really put me off. I was once was roared at by one of the obnoxious workers, in front of dozens of other shoppers, for taking in my soppy, harmless Golden Retriever - he exclaimed in commanding tones that he was scared of dogs and that I was to leave immediately. It's curious, as I generally find Asti people (Astigiani) friendly and kind, in Media World they seem to employ only the worst.
So, Media World was out.. I then remembered a small Apple shop I'd seen in the centre of town. It's up a side street and sort of underground and always dark and I was always a little worried to go in alone with only a dopy golden retriever dog for protection. But I was desperate so managed to find them on the Internet. It took a while but finally their name popped up - '@work'. I sent an email requesting a price and quickly received a reply from the store manger, Max. The price was lower than an Apple store and already the service was better than Media World (not difficult to be honest).
Next day I was there to get my new machine. Max wasn't there but only a young women dressed in a serious, business-like way. I have to admit my heart sunk a little bit. I'd driven all the way to Asti and I wasn't going to get service. Now let me explain!! I don't want anyone, especially female readers, to get the wrong idea. I'll quote one of Italy's great writers to help you understand my feelings. Beppe Severgnini in his brilliant book 'La Bella Figura' explains that in most countries (well, any but Italy) we expect good customer service. In Italy, only one thing counts, as he puts it: 'Italians prefer good looks to good answers'. So, here I was presented with good looks and I wasn't going to get any answers - a thousand retail experiences had taught me that. I'm not sure what I said next, something like, 'I'd like one of those big silver box-things that shows pictures and stuff if you're not too busy texting your boyfriend'. I thought I'd keep the questions simple so asked if Max was there. No, he was in their Alessandria store today. But then I was completely thrown - the girl with the looks and 'no answers' spoke perfect English, and three other languages, and pointed out that she was Max's boss and that she owned all the stores... then made the observation that perhaps I'd been in Italy too long. Happily, she wasn't angry with me, and understood (..that the customer is always right?).
Antonella is a rare thing in Italy - someone with drive, that wants to do something more than what's expected of a woman. Women in Italy are paid lower wages for the same job a man would do and rarely are encouraged to aim higher. It all became clear, Antonella explained that she had lived for many years in Holland. Exposure to another culture always helps us to widen out in our ideas. It certainly is the case with this friendly, thriving business-woman.
I got my new iMac at a great price and made contact with a great business and owner. If you live in the area and need a proper computer then you'll do well to call in to Antonella. They all speak excellent English and are very knowledgeable on their subject - Apple. I met Max a few days later, he was making a nicotine cloud at the store entrance but he's a really nice guy and he rides a Ducati, which can't be bad. Antonella has stores in Asti, Alessandria, Milan and two in Turin.
Update 2019: The Asti store is now closed but there is a branch in Alessandra and Torino.