Cash not always welcome at Apple stores

May 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
It is said that "cash is king" and that people can buy anything with U.S. currency. But, that is not always true and the red hot Apple iPad is a case in point.

It is unbelievable but true.

Apple Computer has come a long way since its old renegade pirate days when it was all about making computers accessible to everybody. Now, it seems the company is more worried about guarding against piracy.

So, your cash is not always welcome at the Apple store.

Diane Campbell can play a few songs on her guitar, but she wants to learn a few more. All she has to do, she says, is go online and download some instructions.

"Different YouTube videos where people would go online and play their music, and kind of break it down into pieces," she said describing her method.

Being disabled and on a fixed income, Campbell held off on buying a computer until the Apple iPad came along. It was small, mobile and perfect for her needs. So, little by little she saved up the $600 she needed to get one.

"It took quite a long time for me to just save up this small amount of money to go down and purchase one," she said. "I had my cash in the backpack and I went up proudly to the counter and told them, 'I would like to purchase an iPad.'"

She was at the Apple store in Palo Alto, about to pull out the big wad of cash and take home her first computer. Instead, she received a terrible blow.

"They said, 'Sorry, we don't take cash.' And, so I looked at her and I said OK she's kidding," Campbell recalled.

However, the clerk was not kidding. The Apple sales policy says if you want an iPad, you must pay by credit card or debit card. Diane didn't have any plastic and amazingly her cash was useless.

"It's sort of astounding to think here is this U.S. dollar, this money put out by the U.S. Treasury Department, and it's being turned away," Alan Fisher says.

Fisher, of California Reinvestment Coalition, advocates for low-income consumers who have trouble getting credit or mortgages.

"Apple is coming at this in a very heavy-handed way, and it means that their nice products are not being able to be enjoyed by people who already have many difficulties accessing the rest of mainstream society," he says.

"When you save for months and then you say OK I finally get to do it, finally get to have some type of internet, and all of a sudden no you don't," Campbell said.

She contacted 7 On Your Side and we contacted Apple Computer. The company only pointed to their purchase policy. It says there is a limit of two iPads per customer and you must pay by credit or debit card. Gift cards will not work either.

Apple did not respond to a 7 On Your Side request for an explanation of the policy, however, the store clerk told Campbell it was to prevent con artists from buying lots of iPads selling them overseas.

"They heard of people buying 50 and 100 iPads at a time and going overseas and selling them triple the amount, Campbell said.

Campbell walked out of the store without her iPad. She's still playing the same Eric Clapton and Elton John songs and waiting for the day Apple will take good old cash.

"Come on Mr. Jobs, give a sister a break, okay," she says. "I'm not going to go sell my iPad."

The U.S. Treasury Department says there is nothing in the law that requires companies to accept cash as payment, even though it is "legal tender." The Apple no-cash policy applies only to iPads and iPhones, although you can at least use a gift card to buy an iPhone.

UPDATE (5/19): Apple has reversed its no-cash policy following our report

BLOG: Apple's refusal to sell iPads for cash is starting a movement

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