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OPENING SOON?

Apple’s hiring spree suggests its retail plan for India is back on track

A salesperson speaks to a customer at an Apple reseller store in Mumbai
Francis Mascarenhas
Are Apple stores finally coming out of dark mode?
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Apple has over 500 retail stores around the world—but none in India. That could soon change. Yesterday (Nov. 17), the company advertised over 13 retail store job listings in the country on its website.

The Cupertino company is hiring technical specialists, store leaders and managers, operations experts, business pros, and its trademark Genius Bar specialists at “various locations in India.”

A Nov. 16 LinkedIn post by Mumbai-based Apple recruiter Nidhi Sharma confirmed that the initial stores would be in Mumbai and Delhi. “A job at Apple is unlike any other you’ve had…Because whatever your job is here, you’ll be part of something big and extraordinary,” Sharma wrote.

At the Bengaluru Tech Summit yesterday, Apple’s vice president of operations, Priya Balasubramaniam, also confirmed that the company is looking to open physical retail stores, although she didn’t specify a timeline. So far, Apple has only sold its products via third-party sellers in India, or through online portals such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Paytm Mall.

Apple directly or indirectly supports over 1 million jobs in India already, Balasubramaniam said. This includes its own fulltime employees, developers of apps for its iOS ecosystem, and workers at its factories.

Apple’s long-awaited retail plans in India

Apple debuted in India in August 2008, and has been trying to set up a brick-and-mortar presence there for years. After CEO Tim Cook’s fanfare-filled maiden trip to the country in 2016, Apple finally secured permission from the government to plan a retail presence.

However Apple’s inability to source at least 30% of raw materials locally—a requirement for foreign retailers establishing standalone stores in India—prevented it from setting up shop for another three years.

In 2019, after much lobbying, India eased local sourcing norms for foreign retailers, including Apple. By October of that year, the firm had reportedly scouted a 25,000 square foot location in one of Mumbai’s business parks to be its flagship India store.

Then the pandemic arrived, setting back its retail store plans once more.

What’s the status of Apple India’s online store?

With plans for its offline store plans on hold, Apple shifted to building its online presence in India, launching its own online store in September 2020.

The move came at an opportune time: The more affordable iPhone 11 and the locally-assembled iPhone SE had given the brand a boost, there was pent-up demand after India’s three-month-long national lockdown, and domestic production was on the rise.

In the June-September quarter, Apple’s iPhone sales in India surpassed 2 million for the first time. During this period, Apple was the fastest growing smartphone brand, posting 212% year-on-year growth owing to strong demand for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 11, according to an October report by market intelligence firm Counterpoint Research.

Apple’s “focused strategy” on the India market, coupled with an “aggressive online channel strategy,” has paid off, believes Prachir Singh, senior analyst at Counterpoint.

Apple’s India prices have been among the most expensive in the world due to steep import duties. Singh believes cheaper offerings in recent months, made possible by increased local manufacturing, are helping to drive sales.

During the 2021 fiscal year (which ends in September for Apple), the iPhone maker said it had doubled its business in India. “We are optimistic about the future, especially as we see strong demand for our new products,” Cook said in the company’s Oct. 28 earnings call.

Apple still faces challenges in the country. Covid-19 has hit production lines hard. Separately, Apple could face an anti-trust probe like the ones in US, Europe, and other parts of Asia, as Indian authorities investigate the 30% fee on in-app transactions it charges developers.

The Apple store experience

Expanding its retail presence globally is about more than just selling laptops and phones for Apple.

Abroad, Apple stores are more akin to “town squares” than shopping outlets. Their free wifi is a big draw, and some offer opportunities for co-working, complete with modern boardrooms. At several locations, the company hosts classes in which “creative pros” teach customers skills such as photography, music, art, coding, and more. Such experience-driven retail aims to foster a community of lifelong fans of the brand.

The stores also give Apple the opportunity to tackle its a massive repair problem in India, where any fix needs to be done by Apple’s certified third-party outlets, and usually takes months and costs several hundreds dollars. Several people have taken to Twitter to complain about harrowing service. (They’re not alone in finding it difficult to get fixes done; Apple recently launched a service for users interested in attempting their own basic repairs.)

By bringing a store to India, Apple can set up its own Genius Bars, and hopefully mitigate some of these troubles.

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