Most Apple Stores around the world have been shuttered for well over a month now, but it looks like Apple may now be making more aggressive plans to reopen as many of its stores as caution — and local laws — will permit it to.
In a memo obtained by Bloomberg, Apple’s Senior VP of Retail and People said in a weekly video update to retail employees that she expected Apple to reopen “many more” of its retail stores in May, although she didn’t specify any individual stores or regions, simply adding that Apple is “continuing to analyze this health situation in every location,” and of course will proceed on a case-by-case basis.
Apple proactively closed all 458 of its stores outside of China on March 13, making it the first major retailer to do so in the U.S., and generally putting it well ahead of the curve of shelter-in-place orders that were being implemented by various levels of government. Originally, Apple had only planned for the closure to last until March 27, although it quickly realized that wasn’t a realistic estimate, and revised its statement to simply say that they would be closed “until further notice.”
While O’Brien originally suggested that Apple Stores would reopen in the first half of April, for the most part that hasn’t happened, with the sole exception of its only store in South Korea, which reopened on April 18, since as Apple noted, the country has “shown great progress” in dealing with the spread of COVID-19 and has moved well beyond the peak.
Otherwise, however, O’Brien added that stores in the U.S. wouldn’t be opening until early May, but it remained unclear exactly how soon or how fast that was going to happen, nor what the schedule would be like for Apple Stores elsewhere in the world.
Focusing on Service and Support
While the closure of Apple Stores has obviously impacted the company’s bottom line in some way, Apple’s online store has remained open for business, allowing Apple customers to make purchases and have them shipped to their homes. In fact, it doesn’t appear that the ongoing pandemic has slowed down Apple’s online operations in any significant way.
However, a much more serious impact of Apple’s retail closure has been an inability for customers to obtain service for Apple products. In fact, back in March, the closure happened so suddenly that many customers who already had products in for service have found themselves forced to do without their products, as they were left locked away, untouched, in the back rooms of local Apple Stores.
When Apple reopened its Seoul store a little over a week ago, the company announced that it would be focusing primarily on support at the Genius Bar. Although customers would still have the option of making in-store purchases at the store, Apple was encouraging people to pre-order their items for in-store pickup to limit the need for contact. Customers are also being screened with temperature checks and a health questionnaire upon entry to the store in Seoul, according to photos of store instructions appearing on Twitter.
It stands to reason that Apple will put similar policies in place elsewhere as it begins opening its other stores throughout the U.S. and around the world.
Other sources have told MacRumors that Apple was aiming to open North American stores by mid-June, suggesting that O’Brien’s comments could apply more to other markets such as Europe, where several countries have also moved past the peak of their COVID-19 outbreaks already. In either case, however, Apple is going to not only need to evaluate local conditions, but of course comply with any existing laws that have required businesses to cease operations. While some jurisdictions like Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee are loosening restrictions, the San Francisco Bay area, where Apple’s headquarters is located, has extended its shelter-in-place orders until at least the end of May.
Apple has generally been taking a more conservative and cautious approach in the face of the global pandemic, and since it was the first major retailer to close its stores around the world, it seems unlikely that it will be in a big hurry to reopen them simply because it’s allowed to do so again by local governments.