Is Apple being too cautious?

Discussion
Photo: @sed0v via Twenty20
Jun 22, 2020
Tom Ryan

Apple is temporarily closing 11 recently reopened stores in four states that have experienced spikes in the number of coronavirus cases.

The closures include all six stores in Arizona, two each in Florida and North Carolina and one in South Carolina.

“Due to current COVID-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas,” Apple said in a statement.

Apple was one of the first retailers to close all of its U.S. stores in mid-March in response to the pandemic. In May, Apple’s stores began reopening with mask and temperature-check requirements for customers and limited capacity restrictions.

Numerous local restaurants across the country have likewise in recent days reopened only to quickly close for cleaning as staff members tested positive.

States are seeking to expand reopening efforts, allowing many bars and movie theaters to reopen, but many businesses are pulling back or pausing their plans as infections spread across states at an alarming rate. On Friday, Arizona, Florida, California and Nevada all reported record-high single-day increases in coronavirus cases.

On a virtual event Friday, Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren warned that reopening the economy too quickly “could ultimately lead to a need for more prolonged shut-downs, which result in reduced consumption and investment, and higher unemployment.”

On the positive side, essential retailers have managed to stay open amid the pandemic while adding a number of safety protocols that have largely been embraced by workers and shoppers. Temporary closures due to employees testing positive have become less frequent as cleaning procedures have improved, although a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Dallas was closed from 2:00 p.m. this past Friday until 7:00 a.m. Sunday for sanitization when some employees tested positive.

“Apple needs to put the health of its employees and consumers ahead of selling iPhones in the stores,” wrote Daniel Ives, at Wedbush Securities, Friday in a note. However, the analyst still described the closings as “a worrisome trend that speaks to the volatility and fluidity of this COVID environment.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should retailers balance safety with the need to reopen commerce at this stage of the pandemic? Should other retailers follow Apple’s lead in states where COVID-19 cases are rising?

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Braintrust
"If stores and restaurants want to avoid another complete shutdown, they need to ignore the political noise about wearing masks and take public safety into their own hands."
"Apple has shown they are willing to make the tough choices that result in the best safety for their employees and customers."
"It’s important to realize that Apple doesn’t rely solely on its store sales for survival."

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29 Comments on "Is Apple being too cautious?"


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Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

There are no simple right or wrong answers here. Every retailer needs to consider the health and safety of their employees and customers as a matter of priority. Apple is obviously taking the health concerns very seriously and that’s reflected in their store policies and in their decisions to close and re-open stores. While it makes sense for retailers to see how others are conducting themselves, I don’t think retailers should blindly follow Apple (or anyone else), but rather focus on what the priorities are for their own stores.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I agree, retailers should not blindly follow Apple. They should knowingly follow Apple. The state governments have been more than remiss in their re-openings. They have been thoughtless and careless, putting politics above the facts. Someone must care about people, and in this case it is Apple. Others would be SMART to follow their lead.

Tom Erskine
BrainTrust
1 month 15 days ago

Respectfully, it seems like you have an opinion that we should lockdown more aggressively, which is fine. But I don’t think you should characterize those governors that have different approaches as “putting politics above the facts” or insinuating that they “don’t care about people.”

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I am not insinuating that governors are putting politics above the facts. I am loudly and clearly saying the rush to open is all about politics with little or no regard for the health and well-being of their constituents.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

Fair points Gene. I do agree that Apple’s approach seems to be among the most thoughtful, and therefore it is worthy of following, however, it’s important to realize that Apple doesn’t rely solely on its store sales for survival. Given its enviable position, Apple can make decisions about their store procedures that are different than other retailers who are reliant on store sales for survival. But regardless of whether you follow Apple or not, health and safety must be the priority.

Scott Norris
Guest

Since Apple Stores are usually the highest-trafficked destination in malls anymore, I’d love to see Apple come out and demand landlords enforce mask-wearing and other commonsense safety protocols. If the mall refuses to comply, the Apple store doesn’t open and the traffic craters.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Apple is letting its conscience be its guide on the decision to close stores in areas with rising COVID-19 cases in efforts to protect employees and customers. It is a noble act but some retailers won’t feel compelled to follow Apple’s lead. Apple is in a unique position, as they survived and thrived for most of the life of the company without stores. While consumers love to visit Apple stores, they are truly not essential from the perspective of customer need or economics.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

I visited my local Apple store in Arizona on Friday, just before it closed. While entry is restricted and there are good hygiene and distancing procedures in place, there is a lot of one-on-one contact with staff because of the consultations that are needed. People also have to touch products to see how they work or feel. These are sanitized after each customer, but there is still a risk. On top of all of this, the store is constantly busy with a long line of people waiting outside, again it’s a risk for those who work there.

The bottom line is that Apple is being cautious. Of course, with its huge cash pile, it is one of the few retailers that can afford to be so.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Maybe Apple’s quick action will get the attention of other retailers in some of the country’s emerging COVID-19 hot zones. CDC recommendations about face masks and social distancing are being widely ignored by retailers as well as their customers, with predictable consequences.

I was in a few stores over the past few days, and the safety standards are all over the place. A locally-owned pet supply store had none of its own associates wearing masks (“They’re not mandatory,” I was told.) Meanwhile, Kohl’s has all of its associates wearing masks, and has social distancing standards inside its store — but about a third of shoppers were mask-free. Finally, you can’t enter Costco without a mask on, and I didn’t witness any complaints.

If stores and restaurants want to avoid another complete shutdown, they need to ignore the political noise about wearing masks and take public safety into their own hands.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I think Apple is doing what it takes keep its staff and customers safe. There is nothing wrong with that. Each company should make that decision on a case-by-case basis.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Apple is doing what some state and local governments refuse to do, which is to take an appropriately respectful position regarding the health of their employees and customers. Apple products and stores are very high-touch environments, so this action makes sense. It may be an “abundance of caution” move versus a “masks be damned” point of view that the federal government seems to be promoting, but I applaud the move in light of the number of states setting new records every day for new COVID-19 cases.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

Again, watching the activities here in Florida, the beach communities have gone from somewhat cautious to completely hands off the wheel. Numbers are at an all time high and maybe 10 percent of the people around me are wearing masks. Employees are often pulling them down under their noses and the narrative we’re getting from the “whatever” group goes across “the number are up because testing is up,” “that’s all fake news” and “I’m just sick of it and not doing it, I’ll take my chances.” My fiancé owns a medical clinic and even got into it with a patient that refused to put on a mask.

Regardless of where you lean, the fact is that every business owner has to take a stance. I applaud Apple for taking one, and erring towards caution. When the “whatever” crowd is out in droves and the facts are all over the place, they decided to err towards caution. That’s leadership.

Stephen Rector
BrainTrust

Each retailer is going to have to make this decision on their own – as there is little direction otherwise. To Neil’s point, Apple has plenty of cash as well as being a global brand with a digital presence. Therefore, closing stores in 11 states isn’t going to bankrupt them whereas a small business owner has a more trying decision to make at the moment.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
This is the most complex situation retailers have been forced to deal with in most of their histories. The lack of national guidelines, changing health conditions at the local level across the country, and a polarized political climate have made it extremely difficult for retailers to make the best decision for their businesses. Apple has shown they are willing to make the tough choices that result in the best safety for their employees and customers. Other retailers will surely take note, but each business must make its own decision to protect its employees and customers where government has refused to take a leadership position. For larger retailers with stores across the country these choices simply cannot be made across the board as conditions vary tremendously between states and local communities. Granted, Apple is perhaps the retailer best positioned to absorb store closures compared to any other brand so retailers don’t need to blindly follow them. However, it is clear that action must be taken as the pandemic continues to stick with us and isn’t going… Read more »
Al McClain
Staff

Unfortunately, here in Florida, I believe we re-opened too soon. By not following the 14 day decline rule in terms of positive tests, along with ignoring other federal guidelines, cases are now soaring. Younger people seem to be ignoring what state, city, and county guidelines we have been given (which are all over the place) and common sense as well. But, the cases are apparently less deadly. The big issue will be how much spread there will be to older people, which will be much more serious.
Meanwhile, I’m afraid Apple’s store closings could only be the beginning. One mayor this morning said Florida may have to close down again (not that it really did the first time).

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Data is data. Cases are through the roof. I live in Miami, which opened later, and still our cases are crazy. I don’t think the city or state is willing to lock down again, but I also don’t think it’s going forward. Naples, where stores were closed, hasn’t been hit as hard, but definitely is spiking.

One day, we’re going to have to recognize that we are not masters of the universe with dominion over all. We are living creatures quite dependent on our environment. And right now, the environment is loaded with a virus that can kill.

As Al said, they opened too soon, and now it’s getting late. Good move, Apple.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

The only good news in the latest data from new hot spots is that the average age has dropped quite a bit. There are a lot more cases but fewer deaths, suggesting that older people are still being cautious even if they are not staying home entirely. But some areas’ ICU capacity is already being stressed, and it’s hard to know whether younger people carrying the virus are spreading it among their parents or grandparents.

It wouldn’t doom retailers, even in areas where it’s politically unpopular, to insist on the use of masks among their associates and customers. It beats another shutdown or another huge wave of fatalities.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Retailers should keep abreast of the latest information available on the virus and respond to the best of their ability to their customers’ concerns. This is uncharted territory so retailers should be somewhat cautious. On the other hand, Dr. Matteo Bassetti, the head of the infectious diseases clinic at the San Martino hospital in Italy, said the virus appears to have become less potent, possibly due to genetic mutations.

Apple has the corporate wealth and resources to weather this virus storm, while retailers that are much smaller do not. Each retailer needs to have a sense of their customers and the virus environment in their area and react with their best judgment.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

This has been a topic as of late with clients who have stores in COVID-19 rebounding areas. Already compulsively cleaning throughout the day, these retailers are adapting whatever they can to keep people safe, including requiring masks in states that do not mandate them, and requiring customers to use hand sanitizer before entering the store. Stress levels are high; how much can you do if your store is in a high risk area?

As much as I hate to see stores that have recently reopened close again, I agree with Apple’s decision. And I applaud the company’s courage to do so. Protecting the health and lives of its associates and customers has to come first.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

“How should retailers balance safety with the need to reopen commerce at this stage of the pandemic?”

Here is my take. Safety first. Safety second. Safety third. Should I go on?

The foolishness of the states that re-opened too soon, using politics as a motivator rather than facts, not only spreads the virus but risks an even longer term crush on the economy. The idea that this is all over is ridiculous.

I saw some interesting statistics today, through June 18 — The EU is averaging about 4,000 new cases per day and is on a downtrend. The U.S. is averaging about 24,000 new cases a day and is on an uptrend. The population if the EU is about one-third larger than the U.S. Folks, we are doing something terribly wrong, and I believe it is all about how we are handling the openings.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Wrong indeed — the mortality rate in countries adjacent to China that applied quick protocols, require masks, etc., is a tiny, tiny fraction of ours. Same virus, different process. When the arguments here go against basic, simple hygiene that anyone can figure out, and are causing such significantly different results and countless avoidable deaths, you have to wonder how a reasonably well-educated population became stuck where we are.

Tom Erskine
BrainTrust
1 month 15 days ago

It is incredibly important that retail businesses make smart decisions about opening/closing, so that we do not have to rely on the government to “make those decisions for us.” The new normal will be temporary, localized closings.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

At the end of the day, retailers and all businesses need to address the health and safety of their employees and customers. Apple took the lead here and should be considered a role model. Absent social distancing and other key safety protocols, e.g., masks, we can expect a spike in COVID-19. The hope is the economy will look like a V in terms of rebounding performance. Right now it’s more like an elongated U. What we cannot afford is a W-shaped rebound. Retailers can make a difference.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Apple’s conservative approach to reopening its stores is their right, especially in areas that have experienced an uptick of cases. The Apple retail store experiences are all about trying the products out, engaging with the store associates, and they tend to get crowded during peak periods and new product releases.

The company’s operating model and digital-first presence enables the company to generate plenty of revenue without having to reopen their stores so quickly. It’s at Apple’s complete discretion, and every retailer, service provider, and restaurant has the right to decide as to when and how they reopen their operations. With NYC now entering into Phase 2, we should expect companies to reopen while keeping their associates and customers safe.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
1 month 15 days ago

The data have consistently shown that a significant majority of consumers indicate that they have safety — i.e., health — concerns about visiting stores. Apple has been smart to implement the protocols it has put in place, including closing its stores in areas with new spikes in cases. Apple is also one of the most valuable companies in the world, so it’s easy to say, “well Apple can afford to do this” whereas other retailers can’t or should not. I wrote about this over a month ago and think that retailers can have the best of both worlds by simply putting mask requirements and other sanitizing practices in place with a clear emphasis on employee and customer safety.

Time will tell, but until there is widespread social acceptance — regardless of one’s own politics — that health and safety practices are good for ALL, brands will become as polarized as citizens are and that will be to the detriment of their collective health.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Of course retail businesses of all stripes are under extreme pressure right now to keep the lights on and the customers coming in. In some parts of the country they are being betrayed by state and local leadership who have failed to provide definitive requirements.

“Masks optional” is simply a terrible — possibly deadly — policy. The present rebound in cases among 20-44-year-olds in states that re-opened too early is your proof.

Mandatory face coverings are the lynch pin of any responsible reopening strategy. Here in Tucson, both city and county leadership instituted such a policy last Saturday. The logic is sound: When we all cover our faces, wash hands, sanitize surfaces and keep a safe distance, nearly all commercial activity can be conducted with acceptable safety.

Masks send a signal to others that you care about their safety. This is the epitome of good citizenship in the present era. Not to mention a booming opportunity for fashion designers. #maskitorcasket

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Retailers must provide a safe and healthy shopping experience. It’s smart for Apple (or any retailer) to showcase how they are doing so for their customers. It sends a good message: We care more about people (employees and customers) than even sales. It would be easy for them to stay open. Instead, they made a good decision that sends a good message.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Apple is in a somewhat happy position — relatively speaking, of course. While its stores are enormously profitable, they are only a small part of its sales network. The nature of the stores — i.e. lots of open space with relatively little merchandise on display — facilitates social distancing and cleanliness. And regardless, the company has a pile of money to carry it through the crisis. Few other companies have all these things going for them — indeed many don’t even have ONE of them — so I’m not sure how relevant it is to compare other retailers to Apple.

For those who think things are going too fast, I don’t know what timetable they’re advocating … I don’t think the “until there’s a vaccine” camp is putting forward a realistic strategy.

William Hogben
Guest

The Apple Store (and many other electronics stores) are worst case scenarios: Fixed products on display that customer after customer comes in to handle. They try the feel of the small phone, then they try the feel of the large one, then they pick up the different colors — then they tap around on the demos, etc. The number of hands on these products is way, way more than a typical store setting. Retailers need to be focussing on no-touch shopping, and these are literally “touch” screen products.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"If stores and restaurants want to avoid another complete shutdown, they need to ignore the political noise about wearing masks and take public safety into their own hands."
"Apple has shown they are willing to make the tough choices that result in the best safety for their employees and customers."
"It’s important to realize that Apple doesn’t rely solely on its store sales for survival."

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