Analyzing Apple’s Retail Growth

This past week saw the opening of Apple’s newest flagship retail store, this one on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. The new store is enormous and strikingly designed, and is part of the company’s new model for roughly one-fifth of its nearly 500 stores. It also reflects the shift Apple is trying to make in how people perceive its stores, from which it’s now dropped the “Store” moniker and which it would like customers to think of as “town squares” or gathering places as much as retail experiences. Today, though, I’d like to take a step back from Apple’s reinvention of its stores and look instead at the growth of its store footprint over the last few years, and what it tells us about the role of retail and Apple’s regional focus.

Approaching 500

Any day now, Apple should open its 500th store, a milestone it’s been approaching for some time now. The chart below shows how that number has grown over the past eight years, from 273 stores in September 2009 to 499 at the end of September 2017:

As you can see, the growth rate has sped up and slowed at various points during that period, and in the last year in particular seems to have slowed overall, as the company focused instead on what the new experience should look like and revamped a number of existing stores.

Regional Distribution Favors the US and Europe

Those stores, though, are far from evenly distributed across the globe, with the US still very over-represented and other regions under-represented. The pair of charts below shows the mismatch between the contribution of each region to Apple’s revenues and the mix of stores in those markets. The first chart shows the percentage share of revenues and stores, while the second shows the ratio between the two:

As you can see, the Americas as a region has a share of retail stores which vastly outweighs its share of revenues – 61% of stores, but only 42% of revenues. At the opposite end of the scale is Japan, whose 8 stores (2% of the total) belie its 8% contribution to revenues. Europe is very close to parity between the two measures, while Greater China still has a 2x mismatch between its revenue share and its share of stores, and store presence in the rest of Asia-Pacific outside of Greater China also lags its revenue share.

Growth Over the Last Three Years Favors China, the US, and AP

It’s interesting, then, to look at where Apple has opened new stores over the last few years, with the country breakdown shown in the chart below:

As you can see, a single country stands out starkly here: China. It has seen 31 new stores since May 2014, or over 40% of all the 75 new stores opened during that period. Together with the US, where 16 new stores were opened during that time, it accounts for 63% of total stores opened. Many countries saw either a single net new store or none at all during that period, including Canada. Of the other countries where more than one new store was opened, three are in Europe (France, Italy, and Germany) and two are in AP (Hong Kong and Australia), with one in the Middle East, also reported as part of Apple’s Europe region.

Many New Countries in the Last Few Years

Apple currently has retail stores in 23 countries, with ten of those added since 2011. Of those, three have been in Asia Pac, and all but three have been in regions where Apple has had little penetration previously, including Latin America and the Middle East.

So the story of expansion over the last few years has three parts:

  • Continuing to expand in markets where Apple’s retail presence has been strong, notably the US and to a lesser extent Europe
  • Expanding massively in China, a region that’s suddenly become very important to Apple, and which now has more Apple Stores than any country after the US, passing the UK in the past year
  • Continuing to add a presence in new countries, by way of testing the water – Apple has ten countries with three or fewer stores, and five with just a single store.

Overall, that expansion has slowed a little over the past year as Apple has launched its new strategy and store concepts, but I would guess that as the company returns to growth and the strategy is implemented in a core set of stores, we’ll see it speed up that expansion and continue to focus on those three main sets of markets in much the same way.

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Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

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