There are strong indications that the 467 Apple Stores outside mainland China closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic will not reopen until mid-April at the earliest, according to multiple location managers and employees worldwide.
Many Apple Store staff members are being quietly told that the situation remains on a “wait-and-see” status. Meanwhile, Cupertino executives continue to assess which locations might reopen and when on a case-by-case, state-by-state and country-by-country basis.
“I’ve been told not to expect stores in my area to be open anytime soon, and when I asked for a guess, two people ventured to say mid-April, but they said it with no certainty,” said the manager of an Apple Store in the southern United States. The Apple employee asked not to be named because the discussions were meant to be private.
As the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads rapidly around the world, it’s wreaking havoc on businesses large and small. Companies like Apple shuttered stores or otherwise radically curtailed their businesses in an attempt to slow the virus’s progress. The goal is to keep employees and customers from contracting the novel coronavirus, which can be spread by asymptomatic individuals.
March 28 reopening a ‘target’
Apple was never totally confident it would be able to reopen all its stores outside mainland China on March 28 when it closed them on March 14, according to multiple sources connected with Apple with knowledge of developments.
The first indication that Apple was considering not reopening locations this Saturday came six days ago, when the company posted an online message on apple.com stating “our retail stores are closed until further notice.”
“I know many managers were told verbally on March 14th to not plan with any great certainty in reopening March 28th,” said another Apple Store manager, who also asked we protect their anonymity.
Some sources associated with Apple Stores said the March 28 date was an intent, but not a definite.
“It was a target. When I asked people above me when we closed [March 14] if we were opening our doors again for sure on March 28th, [they] said, ‘Your guess is as good as mine,’” said another Apple Store manager based in the United Kingdom.
“When I then asked if we had any idea when we’d be open again, I was directly told, ‘Don’t even try and guess,’” another store manager told Cult of Mac.
The calm before the storm of uncertainty
Sources indicate Apple execs appear concerned that as the virus’s impact worsens worldwide, so does the risk to employees and customers. With uncertainty remaining about how bad things might get — coupled with not knowing when conditions will improve — it appears retailers like Apple have few answers.
In many parts of the world, including the United States and large parts of Europe, the so-called flattening of the infection curve has yet to begin. For retailers like Apple, the country-by-country curve will determine a strategy for reopening stores, retail experts said.
At this point, the situation in large parts of the United States is deteriorating quickly. As testing ramps up, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise. So does the number of coronavirus-related deaths.
Worldwide there are over 367,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with more than 16,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., there are over 41,500 confirmed cases and 499 deaths.
“New York and all Americans deserve the blunt truth,” said New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio on Sunday. “[COVID-19 is] only getting worse. And in fact, April and May are going to be a lot worse.”
When will Apple Stores reopen?
Industry experts think it makes little sense for retailers like Apple to reopen stores for some time.
Apple also faces another major complication as it grapples with store closings. Hundreds of its retail outlets around the globe operate inside privately owned shopping malls. With many malls closed or closing, that leaves Apple with no choice but to keep its stores shuttered.
“A lot of stores claim they will open at the end of March or very early April,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of retail consultancy GlobalData. “That’s very unrealistic. I think the earliest they will open is in late April or early May. The worst case is that large numbers of stores and malls could be closed until the summer. It is hard to have any certainty right now.”
Stores might reopen at different times, based on the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in various regions or states, Saunders said.
Apple Stores might stay closed indefinitely
“I’m told the concern [at Apple] is that it’s just not worth taking a risk,” one unnamed source connected with an Apple Store in Georgia said. “When you have authorities urging or ordering everyone to stay home, there’s little doubt Apple sees this as a sign to stay closed indefinitely.”
That means continuing uncertainty for Apple Store employees. Apple did not respond to a request for comment from Cult of Mac about when stores might reopen.
“I know other stores are telling their employees that it’s just totally impossible to know when they’ll be back working,” said one source. “I’m sad and worried for many [Apple Store] employees who I know were already having tough financial issues, but there’s little we can do right now.”
Two Apple employees based in Texas tried to find some humor in the COVID-19 pandemic. Texting each other last weekend, they wondered what Las Vegas odds they could get that their Apple Store would reopen by April 1.
One of them replied, “That’s not gonna happen! LOL.”