Do you shop in-person because you invariably have questions for staff? Apple thinks it can offer some of that experience at home. It's rolling out a "Shop with a Specialist over Video" feature that gives US iPhone shoppers a one-way video chat with a retail employee. You can ask for advice on the model to buy, investigate payment options and learn about switching from Android.
The video call option is available between 10AM and 10PM Eastern every day. The company tells Engadget that the feature is accessible on any device that can reach Apple's website. You communicate through audio alone — the Specialist can't see you.
This won't help if you're looking for hands-on time, and you probably won't get the answers you'd find in a full review. You're also out of luck if you need help shopping for a Mac or other Apple products. Still, this may be useful if you'd rather not navigate product pages just to find answers. To some degree, this also makes Apple's retail services more accessible if you can't travel to a store.
The addition comes at an important moment for Apple. Like other hardware manufacturers, it took a bruising in the fall as a tough economy and supply shortages hurt sales. An online shopping tool isn't likely to play a major factor in improving those sales, but might help customers who would otherwise be hesitant to buy an iPhone sight unseen.