Apple will start to reopen some US retail stores next week, beginning with a location in Boise, Idaho, on Monday and a few others in South Carolina, Alabama and Alaska later in the week.
The iPhone maker had shuttered all of its global stores outside China on March 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is now looking county by county with the help of local health authorities to get back to normal — albeit with plenty of precautions.
During the closure Apple shifted to online-only purchases, yet it still managed to post record retail sales in the quarter to March 31, which chief executive Tim Cook called “phenomenal”.
Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, told the Financial Times last week that “storefronts are still key for the customer experience”, especially for the iPhone and Apple Watch products.
Customers entering the reopened stores will need to wear masks, undergo a quick temperature check and observe social-distancing rules inside. A similar approach is already under way in countries such as South Korea, Australia and Germany.
“With many [people] working and learning from home, our primary focus will be providing service and support at the Genius Bar,” Apple said, referring to its service desk.
Anyone wishing to avoid queues is encouraged to order products online and pick them up at specified times.
“Our new social-distance protocol allows for a limited number of visitors in the store at one time so there may be a delay for walk-in customers,” Apple said. “We recommend, where possible, customers buy online for contactless delivery or in-store pick up.”
The announced openings are only in four states, but Deirdre O’Brien, who oversees Apple’s retail operations, reportedly told staff last week that “many more” stores are expected to open in May.
Since Apple closed its stores almost two months ago, it has introduced three products that few prospective customers have had a chance to see in person.
The cheaper iPhone SE, which starts at $399, is meant to draw in a different demographic to help boost Apple’s overall “installed base” of users for its growing array of services.
A new top-of-the-range iPad Pro can be equipped with Apple’s new Magic Keyboard, enabling the monitor to float.
Earlier this week Apple also unveiled an update to its 13-inch MacBook Pro, which nixed the problematic “butterfly” keyboard and doubles available storage.
Mr Maestri said last week that while there was a downturn of sales in the first half of April due to coronavirus, the company experienced an “uptick” in the second half of the month as consumers upgraded their tech hardware — including iPads and Macs — for a prolonged stay-at-home period.
“We’re going to see some advantages there,” he said.