Following temporarily closures within China, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has reopened all of its retail stores within the Middle Kingdom, as that country has made meaningful progress in containing the novel coronavirus. As the disease spread throughout other countries, Apple had closed all stores outside of China on March 13, with the timeline for reopening in flux because the crisis evolves every day.
The company is now reportedly hoping to welcome customers back to its retail locations in the first half of April.
Apple Stores to reopen "on a staggered basis"
This week, Bloomberg reported that the Mac maker is optimistic that some stores may be able to reopen next month "on a staggered basis," citing an internal memo from Senior Vice President of Retail and People Deirdre O'Brien.
The crisis is unfolding in differing ways across countries as governments adopt varying measures and populations respond differently to the pandemic. Some stores could open as soon as the first half of April "depending on the conditions in their community," O'Brien reportedly wrote. The Cupertino tech giant operates 458 retail stores outside of its Greater China geographical segment.
That includes 17 locations in Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries in the world. The most recent store that Apple opened in Italy was its Piazza Liberty location in Milan in July 2018. Milan remains in lockdown along with the rest of the country, as Italy now has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world.
Apple is also extending its remote work policies for employees outside of China that are able to do their jobs from home. The Cupertino tech giant plans to reevaluate those policies weekly, according to O'Brien.
The store closures didn't stop Apple from updating the iPad Pro and MacBook Air last week. The company will just have to meet demand for those gadgets by shipping online orders.
The biggest drop the smartphone market has ever had
Apple was among the first large multinational corporations to warn that it would miss its revenue guidance due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Among the initial impacts were disruptions to the company's supply chain, but those constraints may be easing; Foxconn recently said it had secured enough workers for its Chinese manufacturing facilities to meet seasonal demand.
Meanwhile, the pandemic is decimating smartphone demand. Market researcher Strategy Analytics said last week that February saw the largest drop in global smartphone volumes in history, plunging 38% to 61.8 million.
"Despite tentative signs of recovery in China, we expect global smartphone shipments overall to remain weak throughout March, 2020," Strategy Analytics analyst Yiwen Wu said in a statement. "The coronavirus scare has spread to Europe, North America and elsewhere, and hundreds of millions of affluent consumers are in lockdown, unable or unwilling to shop for new devices."