On Monday at 11:00 a.m., customers in the United States entered an Apple Store for the first time in almost two months. I am nervous. Apple gave a commendable example when it was among the first major retailers to close their doors against the COVID-19 threat in March. A premature re-opening sends a mixed signal.
I praised Apple’s empathy for store employees and customers during this public health crisis. The company’s COVID-19 response was perfect. A few days before all stores outside Greater China closed on March 13, Apple began offering employees unlimited sick leave due to coronavirus-like symptoms. For the past two months, Apple has provided financial and mental support to its retail employees with continued remuneration and opportunities to work from home to pass the time. Store teams that were even set up at home overnight at Apple creative sessions to remind everyone that creativity is still important.
As of next week, Apple will begin the long and slow process of reopening its 271 US retail stores. By the end of the week, fewer than six stores will be operating in four states, with more to follow. In other parts of the world, Apple has reopened stores in Greater China, South Korea, Austria and 21 out of 22 locations in Australia. Germany’s 15 branches reopen on Monday and the 4 in Switzerland reopen on Tuesday at a total of 94 locations worldwide. Apple stores remain completely closed in 15 other regions.
The countries where Apple has been reopening have all taken proactive and reasonable measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 and smooth its curves. The United States doesn’t. We have the most deaths, the most reported cases, and a confusing state-to-state strategy to ease closures across the country. The reopening of 1, 10, or 100 Apple stores is telling Americans that it’s safe to lose vigilance. We cannot afford to return to normality yet.
Retailers have seen closings in the Apple Store as a new kind of “Waffle House IndexTo measure the severity of the outbreak. The public is uncomfortable Return to restaurants, shops and activities that once dominated normal life. People trust Apple’s verdict on health and safety measures as the company made cautious decisions before and during the pandemic. Josh Centers summarized The American mood is good and says, ‘… no matter what my governor says, I won’t consider stepping into a crowd until Apple gives the all-clear.’
Apple isn’t the first retailer to announce a U.S. reopening schedule. Starbucks, Nordstrom, Gap and many others have a plan. The shopping centers will reopen regardless of whether Apple is ready or not. But few brands carry the cultural gravity that Apple has. Even fewer have stores that pull a number of customers out the door. The reopening of an Apple store not only affects the region in which it is located, but also changes the national mood.
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When customers collect their broken iPhones and water-filled Macs that have been quarantined after two months and line up in front of Apple’s doors, they face teams worried about returning to work during a pandemic. Not all Apple Retail employees are ready to face a higher risk of infection for their work. Pressing for reopening in front of the teams at the front poses a pleasant risk of destroying the considerable goodwill that Apple has sown since the beginning of this crisis.
I have the greatest confidence in Apple’s ability to reopen its businesses responsibly. Remarkably detailed, industry-leading health and safety precautions have been demonstrated at 75 locations, and businesses in the United States will follow suit. This precedent should give Apple employees confidence in their return to work.
I am also confident that this early reopening will not be an asset for Apple. Apple stores can afford to stay closed. Despite widespread closings, Apple Retail has just posted a quarterly sales record. I firmly believe that Apple has the best interests of employees and customers at heart.
We all want life to be normal again. The reopening of the Apple Store brings a sense of optimism that our global nightmare is subsiding. I just hope it’s not too early to celebrate.
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