Apple is expanding express retail stores ahead of iPhone 12 becoming available

Apple is expanding a new physical store format to get iPhone 12 models into the hands of customers, the retail chief said in an interview with Reuters.

The new “Express” stores are coming as COVID-19 rates rise in the US and Europe. The new format features a wall in front of the main store with sales counters protected by Plexiglas and some accessory shelves such as cell phone cases and AirPods.

Customers schedule an appointment to collect orders placed online or to interact with Apple technicians for customer service.

For Apple, which has 271 retail stores in the US, the new format could help overcome a Christmas sales challenge.

The company launches its best-selling product of the year as the pandemic flares up again in key markets like the US and Europe. The company has taken a cautious approach to reopening its retail stores, employing a team of medical experts to make its own calls from county to county and sometimes closing stores again when local regulations otherwise would allow the stores to operate .

The new “Express” stores offer Apple another option in areas where problematic COVID-19 rates could result in service being reduced to roadside collection.

This option doesn’t work as smoothly for Apple stores in malls or busy downtown shopping areas where the “curb” may be far from the store, said Deirdre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and employees.

Apple currently has around 20 such stores in the US and Europe and plans to expand to 50 in both regions by the end of the month, she told Reuters.

“It’s a faster way for us to serve customers,” said O’Brien. “It enables us to maintain all reasonable social distancing and all of our health protocols in our branches.”

Apple’s iPhones arrive a month later than usual due to pandemic development delays. Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies, said shoppers who buy iPhones on Friday are unlikely to be deterred from not handling demo devices in the “express” stores.

“People who buy this early in the cycle know what they are buying,” she said. Gene Munster, a longtime Apple analyst who is now a partner at Loup Ventures, said Apple will likely see about 5 percent fewer iPhone sales because Apple will lose customers who spend more than planned in physical stores for accessories like cases or output headphones.

However, that loss was offset by Apple’s customer service, which Munster said helped drive higher sales last quarter.

“If you’re a parent trying to go to school from home or an employer trying to run distributed technology, that’s a positive force,” he said.

“That far outweighs the negatives of what’s going on in their retail stores, and we see that in their numbers.”
© Thomson Reuters 2020

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