Shuttered Apple Stores manage preorders, repairs with skeleton staffs

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The COVID-19 virus has some 270 Apple Stores in the U.S. and many others worldwide closed like this one in Tulsa, OK.
Photo: Brad Gibson / Cult of Mac

Many Apple Stores across the United States are closed to consumers, but a select number are being staffed to handle pre-existing orders and already-scheduled repair pickups, according to social media posts, calls to selected stores and physical visits.

Cult of Mac was able to confirm 22 stores across the U.S. were manning their locations Saturday with a skeleton staff to finish fulfilling existing orders and repair jobs. Some stores and online agents said locations will be staffed into Sunday and as far out as March 16.

Apple said late Friday it would immediately close all its retail stores outside Greater China in an effort to battle the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The stores will remain closed through March 27.

Apple Stores manned…well, sort of

Calls to certain Apple Stores were automatically transferred to Apple repair support who are confirming orders and scheduling store visits to pick up items.

“We’re working with stores to figure out the best time and day to complete [repair] jobs and have customers pickup already bought merchandise,” an unnamed phone agent told Cult of Mac Saturday. “We’re able to see online the status of orders and repairs waiting at each store.”

Another phone agent, who asked not to be identified, confirmed a “large number” of stores across America were being staffed with a small number of people.

Cult of Mac was able to confirm Apple Stores in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Kansas City, Dallas, New York City, Miami, and Dallas were staffed Saturday with skeleton crews.

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An Apple Store customer in Tulsa, OK is instructed how to schedule a repair pickup as employees through a security barrier explain the process.
Photo: Brad Gibson / Cult of Mac

A store representative at the Apple Store in Tulsa, Oklahoma said each store is doing everything they can to make sure orders and repairs are fulfilled.

“A manager or assistant manager will be available to come back in and meet a customer for pickup,” an employee wearing protective rubber gloves told a customer Saturday. “If someone can’t get through the telephone automation [system] to talk to a store directly, they can simply talk to an agent who can make arrangements for them.”

Pickups welcome…outside

An Apple Store manager in Kansas City said customers who come to pick up already existing orders or repairs will not be allowed into the store but must finish transactions outside.

“We’ve been told not to allow customers inside to protect everyone from the spread of the coronavirus,” the manager said.

At the store in Tulsa, customers were talking to agents at a distance through a rolling chain link security shutter. For those customers picking up products, an assistant manager politely told one customer to “stay right there and we’ll bring [your order] out to you.”

An evolving store closing strategy

Apple operates stores in nearly 460 locations across the world outside of China, including about 270 in the United States. The decision to close all its stores serves as a dramatic example of how companies like Apple are moving aggressively to slow the spread of the coronavirus to employees and customers.

Previously, Apple gradually shuttered retail stores temporarily as the COVID-19 coronavirus spread. The company Friday closed its 11 retail stores in Spain. This followed closures of 17 stores throughout Italy on Wednesday.

Apple also canceled Today at Apple sessions at stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil this past week. On Friday, reports circulated that an Apple Store employee in Santa Monica, California, tested positive for COVID-19.

The first country to experience Apple Store closures was China, where the COVID-19 outbreak originated. All 42 Apple Stores in China reopened this week after being closed since last month.

Worldwide there are over 153,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with more than 5,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., there are over 2,600 confirmed cases and 51 deaths.