When the coronavirus outbreak first erupted roughly one year ago, nonessential retailers were forced to close down. Since then, some have opted to reopen under strict guidelines, while others have remained completely or partially shuttered.
Such was the case for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), which announced last March that it would close all its stores outside of China as the pandemic began to take hold on a global level. At the time, Apple stores were slated to stay closed for a couple of weeks. (Then again, back then, many closures were initially presented as temporary.) But since that announcement, Apple has taken closures into its own hands, often opting to shutter locations even when local guidelines didn't mandate it.
But now, Apple is finally opening all 270 of its stores. This marks the first time that all locations will be open since the start of the pandemic, and it's very good news for malls.
Malls need a boost
In the course of the pandemic, a number of well-known retailers have filed for bankruptcy, made plans to close stores, or actually closed stores to cope with a major drop in revenue. And that's been terrible for malls, which are now facing widespread vacancies.
Worse yet, some malls are now in danger of losing their anchor tenants as department stores increasingly make closure plans in the wake of the pandemic. Not only does that mean having empty space to fill, but it also gives customers one less reason to set foot in a mall in the first place.
Apple's announcement changes things for the better, though. With stores scattered throughout U.S. malls, Apple is a draw for customers, given the number of people who own Apple products. And welcoming customers back could result in a huge uptick in foot traffic for malls.
Now not all Apple stores will be open for customers to just walk in and browse. Some will require consumers to make an appointment before heading in to look at new products or get their existing products serviced. But either way, the result is the same -- more bodies in malls.
Apple's sales have not declined over the past year despite store closures. And the company's stock is up substantially today compared to where it was trading at one year ago (though to be fair, the broad market is up as well). But CEO Tim Cook recently acknowledged that holiday sales may have been more robust had stores not been closed. While Apple itself may not be desperate for a boost in revenue, the fact that it's motivated to open stores -- and keep them open -- could help malls thrive at a time when consumers continue to stay away and shop online instead.
A survey released last year found that 32% of consumers aren't comfortable shopping in malls due to the pandemic. As vaccines become more available, that attitude could start to shift. And customers may be even more drawn to malls now that Apple stores are once again open for business.