The Real Genius of the Genius Bar
My wife and I recently purchased an iPod touch (8GB, second generation) primarily for our kids to use for games. After setting it up, however, I couldn't get any sound out of the speaker--audio worked fine in headphones, but not at all when trying to use the speaker. So I made an appointment at the local Apple Store's Genius Bar to have them take a look.
After a few minutes of blowing compressed air into the headphone jack, and plugging and unplugging headphones, the Genius gave up and handed me a new iPod touch with a functioning speaker. The whole process took about 30 minutes (including my wait time), and didn't cost me a penny. Well, technically it didn't cost me a penny.
In actuality, it cost me 17,390 pennies (that's $173.90 in the more-common dollar units). That's because I was sucked in by the real genius of the Genius Bar: it puts Apple's customers in a store filled with desirable Apple products, and with some time to waste while waiting for their appointment at the Genius Bar. In my case, that time gave me a chance to purchase a spare battery for my 15-inch MacBook Pro, and a case and screen protectors for the iPod touch. These were all items on my "I need to get these at some point" list, but the visit to the Genius Bar was the perfect excuse to get my shopping done.
So while the Genius Bar serves an important function for customers (and a popular one--it was swamped the whole time I was there) by providing them direct contact with Apple, it also serves as an incredible sales engine for Apple's retail arm.
After my time was done with the Genius Bar folks, I kept my eye on some of the other Genius Bar visitors. Of the five folks I watched, four of them had purchases in hand when they left the store. (I imagine that Apple tracks the revenue generated by Genius Bar visitors, and knows exactly how much money the average Genius Bar visit is worth. It won't ever happen, but I'd love to see those figures!)
In short, the Genius Bar is simply pure genius. It lets Apple help its customers while helping its revenue at the same time.