Apple Stores Close and Apple Cardholders Get Relief in the Wake of COVID-19

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Apple isn’t always the first company to make a move that benefits its customers and employees over the stockholders. That is often the nature of large, publicly traded companies. However, that isn’t always the case that Apple puts profits over people. Whatever criticism they deservedly received for things like their early waffling when it came to the warranties on Butterfly Keyboards on MacBooks, or their initial handling of Battery-gate, there are still times when they get it right, right off the bat.

There have been a few instances of Apple doing this recently, such as sending care packages to some of their retail employees in China under quarantine and proactively moving WWDC completely online. They have piled up a little more good corporate karma since then with their recent moves regarding Apple Stores and the Apple Card.

It is already well-known that Apple’s earnings are going to take a royal POUNDING this quarter. Between the store closings in China and lower device sales numbers there due to the near-complete economic shutdown, as well as economic ripples running through the rest of the world’s markets over the last two weeks, it was already shaping up to be pretty rough. Despite this, Apple took the additional move of closing the rest of its stores outside of China in response to COVID-19 a few days ago.

Here is a segment of the statement from Apple.com:

We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27. We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers. Our online stores are open at www.apple.com, or you can download the Apple Store app on the App Store. For service and support, customers can visit support.apple.com. I want to thank our extraordinary Retail teams for their dedication to enriching our customers’ lives. We are all so grateful to you.
In all of our offices, we are moving to flexible work arrangements worldwide outside of Greater China. That means team members should work remotely if their job allows, and those whose work requires them to be on site should follow guidance to maximize interpersonal space. Extensive, deep cleaning will continue at all sites. In all our offices, we are rolling out new health screenings and temperature checks.
All of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations. We have expanded our leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19 — including recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges due to school closures.

That last paragraph is key. Even Apple’s hourly employees are being taken care of here. That’s a great move that should insure that ALL their employees, even the ones can’t work remotely, are taken care of.

Now, to be completely clear, Apple had already been forced to close their stores in places where blanket quarantines have been put into effect, such as Italy, and as of today, Spain. However, with this blanket decision Apple is also closing all of their stores across the United States and Canada before such a mandate has been decreed by those governments. Sacrificing those potential sales will definitely hurt the bottom line even more than it already has been, especially considering how many stores Apple has across North America.

However, it is the right move to promote the vital role of social distancing and can hopefully help to “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19. As one of the largest companies on Earth, it’s good to see them taking a leading role here without outside force.

Thankfully, Apple isn’t alone in making this move, either. Several other companies across the US, both large and small, are either closing, changing their hours or allowing employees to work remotely when possible. Many state and local governments are also taking steps to close “non-essential” businesses, but it was a good move for Apple to get out ahead of this to keep people out of their stores this weekend before broader quarantine measure possibly go into effect everywhere.

As for the Apple Card, Apple is giving its customers the option to eliminate interest for the month. This is according to an email that has gone out to cardholders:

We understand that the rapidly-evolving COVID-19 situation poses unique challenges for everyone and some customers may have difficulty making their monthly payments. Apple Card is committed to helping you lead a healthier financial life.

Should you need assistance, please click here to be connected to Apple Card support via Messages and enroll in our Customer Assistance Program, which will allow you to skip your March payment without incurring interest charges.

For those who will have a difficult time making ends meet while they are not able to work amid mandated quarantines and work stoppages, this should come as a small bit of welcomed relief. You do have to sign up for the service, which will allow you to skip a month’s payment with no penalties or hit to your credit.

As with closing their stores outside of China, this was the right move at the right time. The only thing that isn’t clear is what, if anything, it will cost Apple. As anyone who has followed the Apple Card and some of its early stumbles and customer service issues knows, Goldman Sachs administers the card, runs the credit checks, decides who is approved and what interest rate they get, and if there are penalties for late payment.

I am curious how Apple’s arrangement with Goldman Sachs works in this situation. Which one is losing out on these payments with interest for this month, or is it both of them? Is Apple having to pay Goldman to be able to do this, or do they have sole authority to make such a move? I haven’s seen this situation broken down anywhere yet (as there are surely more important things going on in the world at the moment). However, if I do find out. I will definitely provide a future update on it.

There are plenty of times when the tech press, and even Apple fans, have been critical of the company for not taking a leadership role when it comes to dealing with and serving its customers and own employees. However, I really think they have done well throughout this health crisis, so far. They were a little later than the rest of Silicon Valley in encouraging employees to work remotely. However, they have done a good job working with the Chinese government on manufacturing and store closures and re-openings since COVID-19 first hit there.

As this disease has progressed, Apple has continued to stay ahead of that curve elsewhere. First by closing stores in other hotspots, then by limiting programs and classes in stores elsewhere to limit crowds and finally closing all of them outside of China. The availability of an interest-free month for Apple Card holders who need it is another good move that other credit card companies and banks should consider adopting. If they don’t, it will end up becoming a great selling point for the Apple Card in the future.

As much of a financial beating as Apple has taken, along with all other companies and markets worldwide, I appreciate that they are still willing to put their money where their mouth is during what could quickly go from a strong economy to a recession. Apple has enough of a cash stockpile and resources that they will weather the storm better than most companies will be able to.

That said, they have lost over $76 per share since February. For the year Apple shares are down over 15%. That is one hell of a beating in short period of time. I can’t help but appreciate the fact that they are still making consumer and employee-friendly moves that come with a real cost after all of that and knowing what the short-term outlook for this quarter is. It will benefit them in the long run when the markets ultimately recover. Customers and employees remember these kinds of things.

 

 


James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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