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It looks like Apple may finally begin reopening more of its retail stores in the next week or so, slowly signalling the end of the closure that’s gone on for more than six weeks for all of its stores outside of Greater China in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Apple’s store closures actually began back in late January, when it shuttered all of its retail operations in mainland China as a result of the initial novel coronavirus outbreak in that country. However, no sooner had it reopened all of its Chinese retail stores than circumstances forced it into the unprecedented decision to close down all 458 of its stores in the rest of the world. This was on March 13th, and while some had hoped that the stores would be back in operation by early April, with the exception of its lone store in Seoul, South Korea, the rest of its worldwide retail operations have remained closed.
Apple’s Senior VP of Retail and People, Deirdre O’Brien, has gone on the record a couple of times to internal employees suggesting that Apple has been optimistic about opening many of its stores sooner, but the uncertain times have obviously resulted in revised deadlines. O’Brien originally predicted more stores would open in early April, but earlier this week told employees that she expected Apple would open “many more” of its retail stores in May.
To be clear, all of these comments from O’Brien have been made in internal updates to Apple retail employees that happened to be obtained by Bloomberg; they were never intended to be public announcements. Now, however, it seems that O’Brien’s boss, Apple CEO Tim Cook, has gone on the record with Bloomberg to outline a slightly more specific plan.
Austria and Australia
According to the report, Apple plans to reopen its retail stores in both Austria and Australia beginning in the next one to two weeks. Austria currently only has a single Apple Store in Vienna, while Australia is host to more than 20 throughout the country. Despite the similarity of the two country names, Cook clearly stated both countries were on the list, but it’s odd enough to make us wonder if Apple’s plan might be to reopen its stores in alphabetical order by country (we’ll know for sure if the next ones to reopen are in Belgium, Brazil, and Canada).
That said, it’s worth noting that Australia’s outbreak of the pandemic has been much more easily contained, and most experts believe the country has moved well past the peak. Further, most of the Australian Apple Stores are in shopping centers that haven’t otherwise been closed down, making Apple the outlier among retailers in that country.
What About the U.S.?
Cook also told Bloomberg that he believes that Apple will be able to re-open “just a few, not a large number” of stores in the U.S. in the next couple of weeks, adding that Apple will be looking at the data and making a “decision city by city, county by county, depending on the circumstances in that particular place.”
Notably, Cook did say that he doesn’t expect that Apple will be the first storefront to reopen in any region, and will likely wait until other similar retailers resume operations, even in places where shelter-in-place orders have otherwise been lifted. In the case of Australia and South Korea, for example, many retailers continued operating throughout the crisis, simply adding enhanced safety precautions, enforcing social distancing, and limiting store occupancy. It’s expected that Apple will employ all of the same precautions once its stores do open, as it has already done in South Korea.
Cook also noted that even Apple’s main campus in Cupertino isn’t expected to re-open until at least early June, and when it does it will be staffed on a staggered basis with a number of screening precautions in place for employees.