iPhone launch at Apple stores will ‘feel different’ because of coronavirus

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iPhone launch day will “feel different” this year because of the coronavirus outbreak, but people will be able to safely shop instore if they wish, Apple’s head of retail has said.

The tech giant will release the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, as well as the new iPad Air, on Friday.

The release will be the first flagship phone launch the company has had since the Covid-19 outbreak, with the traditional queues often seen outside Apple stores set to be replaced by social distancing, a new appointments system and express pick-up options at some locations.

“This year is going to feel different in our stores – you’re used to experiencing that wonderful energy where everybody is shoulder to shoulder gathered around the new iPhones – we’re not going to have that experience this year,” she told PA.

“If people come to the store – which we want them to, we love the enthusiasm about our products – if you come to the store we will give you an appointment time to come back and visit us and then you’ll be in your own slot and we’ll take great care of you.”

This week, the phone maker announced a new feature for its retail stores called Shopping Sessions, where customers can book a one-on-one slot with an Apple Store employee to help select the new product they want.

The same advice is also being made available online, with customers able to chat with specialists before deciding on a purchase.

The company will also run two Apple Express pick-up sites in the UK, at its White City and Stratford Apple stores in London, where customers will be able to collect online orders and buy popular accessories.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro release
Tim Cook during the Apple Event for the unveiling of the iPhone 12 Pro (Apple/PA)

“We know we’re in unprecedented times right now and we’re working to make sure that we can greet our customers in-store in a great way, or online, and we feel really great about where we are at this moment, given all the complexity that we’re dealing with,” Ms O’Brien said.

“We’ve developed multiple store operating models to allow us to successfully support our customers in stores given the various situations around the world.”

When asked about the retail sector’s response to the pandemic and its recovery, Ms O’Brien said improving the customer online experience had been vital to Apple’s response, and would be to other businesses going forward.

“It is hard to predict the future, of course, but the one thing that I will share from our experience is that the pandemic has really accelerated, I think, the shift for customers to move online and it is so important to us that we have our customers feeling the same Apple experience whether they’re in person, face-to-face with a Specialist in our store or a Genius in our store, or they’re interacting with us online,” she said.

“I think everyone has had to be really nimble – you have to be very creative – and the retailers that are going to be successful in their stores while we’re operating in the pandemic are the ones that are going to be able to create a great environment in their stores, so customers feel good when they’re there.

“We were very focused on making sure that our stores were in a great position to be a healthy environment and so work really hard to have our mask protocols in place, our health screenings, temperature checks, social distancing, we’ve just been very focused on making sure that our stores feel very welcoming still, even though we’re in a new normal right now.

“I think that’s key to any retailer right now, to operate in this environment, your stores need to feel really welcoming and safe for customers and your team members.

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