Apple Inc. is starting to use its network of retail stores as distribution centers for shipping products to consumers, joining a trend popularized by other retailers.
The Cupertino, California-based technology giant has typically shipped devices like iPhones, Macs, iPads, and accessories from warehouses located across a customer’s region or directly from China. Now items that are in stock can be shipped directly to consumers from a network of almost 300 retail stores spread across the U.S. and Canada, according to people familiar with the matter.
Apple told staff the shift will mean faster delivery times for customers who live further from distribution centers than from stores, according to the people who asked not to be identified discussing internal policies. The products will be shipped through United Parcel Service Inc. in Canada and FedEx Corp. in the U.S. via ground shipping and may be delivered as early as the day after a customer’s order, Apple told its staff. The program will apply to customers who live within 100 miles from a store, the people said.
The change in delivery operations at Apple retail locations comes as the company prepares to launch a slew of new products soon, including four new 5G iPhones, a new iPad Air, over-ear headphones, a smaller HomePod and the first Macs with Apple’s own processors.
Apple started testing the program with a small number of stores after locations started re-opening from Covid-19-related closures in June and July. It has rolled out to more, but not all retail sites across the U.S. and Canada, the people said. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.
The move to shipping from stores has been popularized by some grocery stores in recent years and has expanded to other retailers. The practice reduces costs, potentially improving product margins, and is beneficial to the environment, Apple told its staff.
Customers won’t be able to choose to have their orders shipped from a store nor will they be aware when it happens. The decision on where to ship an item from is decided by Apple’s operations team, the people said.
The shift in delivery operations ensures that stores that remain shuttered or limited due to Covid-19 restrictions can still operate in a way that assists Apple in selling devices. The company also has discussed converting select stores into online support or sales call centers in the event that locations need to be closed again due to the pandemic. Some back rooms at stores have already started serving as small call centers.
For months, some retail employees have been working from home as online sales and support staff.