Returns

Apple cuts back support before Angela Ahrendts' arrival

March 13, 2014: 8:01 AM ET

Two changes in the company's vaunted customer-care policies won't be blamed on her.

Incoming retail chief Angela Ahrendts

Incoming retail chief Angela Ahrendts

FORTUNE -- One of the reasons Apple (AAPL) can charge a premium for its products -- and enjoy profit margins that are the envy of tech world -- is that they come, as Steve Jobs once put it, "with motherhood built in." Not only are they usually better made than the competition, but they are accompanied with unmatched service and support.

So when there is a change in that level of support, it tends to get noticed. Witness Wednesday's blanket coverage of the news that Apple's 30-day iPhone return policy -- which let customers bring phones back to the store within a month and get a full refund, no questions asked -- had been cut to 14 days.

It was the second such cutback in as many weeks. At the end of February 9to5Mac reported that Apple will be charging $19 per incident for out-of-warranty chat support that used to be free.  (Phone calls are even more expensive: $29 per incident for iOS devices, $49 for Macs.)

The timing of these changes -- in late February and early March -- is interesting. Spring is only a week away, and spring is when Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry's (BURBY), is expected to move into her new role as Apple's new senior vice president for retail, reporting directly to Tim Cook.

One of the mistakes Ahrendts' predecessor made was to alienate Apple's T-shirted retail staff by letting it be known that he thought the Apple Stores were "too bloated" with employees. Four months after John Browett arrived, the company issued a memo to staff describing his cutbacks as "a mistake." Two months later, he was gone.

Apple seems to have learned from the Browett debacle. If cutbacks in Apple's vaunted service and support need to be made, better to make them before Angela Ahrendts arrives.

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