Apple’s former SVP of retail praises the company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic

Apple was forced to make changes to its retail presence all across the globe due to the coronavirus pandemic, and at least one former Apple senior vice president believes the company has handled the situation well.

Ron Johnson is Apple’s former SVP of retail, and was an integral part of the company’s initial efforts to build a physical retail presence, working alongside Apple’s co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs, along the way. While things might have been rocky and unsure at the time, there’s no denying the retail strength that Apple has these days. And that’s still the case, even as Apple’s been forced to shut down all of its stores outside of China due to the global coronavirus.

Johnson sat down with Yahoo! Finance to discuss the current situation as it relates directly to retail, which makes sense because Johnson has been associated with retail for years now. After he left Apple in 2011 he joined JCPenney, the big box retailer. Now, however, Johnson is leading a startup called Enjoy, which not only delivers products to customers, but also offers personal setup of devices like the iPhone.

The interview makes it clear Johnson does not have a very positive outlook on physical retail shops in light of the coronavirus. He points out that many department stores, like Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Dillard’s, were already in relatively bad shape before lockdowns were imposed in regions across the globe.

He starts by saying, “I think it will be really difficult to survive,” and adds, “I think it will be hard for B and C malls to survive.” Johnson then goes on:

We have to remember that department stores came into this with tough balance sheets. The number one category people are buying today is food. The category they are least interested in is fashion apparel. So it will be really hard for department stores to come out of this. I think if I was in the meetings at Macy’s and J.C. Penney I think what they would be talking about is not when do we reopen, it’s how many stores do we reopen. It wouldn’t be surprising if many of these department stores and others use this opportunity to massively reduce their footprints to get at a footprint they planned to be at five years from now because they won’t be able to survive.

As for Apple? Well, Johnson has a slightly more positive outlook in comparison. According to the former SVP, the company is always “proactive” and “thinking ahead”, and says that the experience in China will help the company reopen its stores throughout the rest of the world when the time comes. He says the slow rollout of store reopening was the right move, and the company did a lot of things to “ensure safety”, including limiting how many people could be in a store at a time.

Johnson expects that, right now, Apple’s executives are currently “thinking through” how to start reopening stores, and says the company will only do so when it believes things are safe for the customers. Johnson also notes that Apple’s online storefront is a huge benefit for the company:

You know, they have the benefit of a very strong online store, so if a customer needs an Apple product they can buy online. But they will want to reopen their stores, but they’re not going to hurry. They’re going to do it when it’s safe.

Back in March, we reported that Apple had already started to investigate the reopening process for its retail stores. At the time, the company said it would consider and evaluate local conditions before making any decisions, but some stores could start to reopen their doors beginning this month.

You can check out the full interview with Johnson at Yahoo! Finance.