How the Apple Store is planning to prevent long lines and massive crowds for its biggest iPhone launch in years during a pandemic

How the Apple Store is planning to prevent long lines and massive crowds for its biggest iPhone launch in years during a pandemic
The first customer in the queue jumps into the air when greeted by Apple staff as the iPhone 11 Pro goes on sale, on September 20, 2019 in London, England.Getty Images Europe
  • A new iPhone launch is usually synonymous with winding lines at the Apple Store, but the company is implementing some new measures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Apple will be using a reservation system for stores that are open, should lines begin to form.
  • That means customers waiting in line may be asked to return at a specified time to make their purchase.
  • Apple Stores that are temporarily closed will have an Express Storefront setup, where customers can pick up items ordered ahead of time without entering the store.
  • Apple's iPhone 12 launch is expected to be one of its biggest product releases in years, and the company is preparing for an upgrade "supercycle."

If this were any other year, the launch of the iPhone 12 would mean winding lines outside stores around the world as customers wait to become among the first to get their hands on Apple's new devices.

But 2020 isn't like any other year. Apple is launching its new iPhone in the midst of a global pandemic, with many stores closed and the open ones under strict public health guidelines. The experience of visiting your local Apple Store to pick up an iPhone 12 or 12 Pro when they debut on Friday will be very different than years past.

Apple has implemented some new shopping options throughout the pandemic to more easily limit how many shoppers are allowed in stores at a given time, and these will be in effect during an iPhone launch for the first time this year. Apple told Business Insider it is also introducing an in-person reservation system for those waiting in line on iPhone launch day, while upholding the same safety protocols it has been enforcing for months.

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If a long line forms outside of stores that are currently open, queued customers may be asked to return during a specified time slot to make their purchase, Apple said.

The company is also offering the option to shop one-on-one with an Apple Store specialist for help navigating the new products, financing options, or carrier plans.


Another measure new to this year's iPhone launch is Apple's Express Storefront. As its name implies, the Express Storefront is a designated area outside the Apple Stores that are temporarily closed because of the pandemic where customers can pick up a product that they've already ordered online.

The Express Storefront format isn't specific to the iPhone launch; rather, it's a new option for some currently closed stores that Apple began piloting in September, starting with its Burlingame, California, store. The ability to shop with an Apple specialist also isn't specific to launch weekend but is relatively new and has been rolled out over the last few months.

At the same time, Apple will continue implementing the safety protocols and shopping options it's offered over the last few months during the pandemic. These include in-store or curbside pickup and contactless delivery for products ordered ahead of time.

Those who visit the Apple Store will have to wear a face mask in order to enter, and Apple will take contactless temperature checks upon entry. Store occupancy will be limited and social distancing rules will be enforced for locations that are open, the company said.

Apple hasn't said how many of its 271 stores in the United States are currently open or will be open for launch day, but 9to5Mac reports that more than 90 percent of stores in the US are operational as of October 18.


The best way to see what options and services are available at your local Apple Store is to check the website for your specific store through Apple's store locator. That's important because some of the policies can vary by location. The Union Square location in San Francisco, California, for example, is requiring customers to make a reservation in advance to purchase an iPhone 12 on launch day, an employee told Business Insider.

The iPhone 12 is expected to be one of Apple's biggest iPhone launches in years, with some analysts predicting that it could kick off a "supercycle" of upgrades. The $800 iPhone 12 and $1,000 iPhone 12 Pro are among Apple's first smartphones to support 5G. They also come with a new design, more durable screens, and cameras that are better at seeing in the dark.

Preorders for the iPhone 12 are said to have more than doubled those of the iPhone 11 in its first day of availability, according to estimates from TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, boosted by interest in the iPhone 12 Pro.

The way Apple handles a high-profile product launch like the iPhone 12 is also significant because the company's decisions around how its retail stores operate during the pandemic have sometimes preempted broader COVID-19-related restrictions. The company temporarily closed all of its stores outside of greater China in March, for example, just before stay-at-home orders were issued in parts of the US.

Apple's reputation as a visionary in the retail space and its vast resources suggest the company may set an example for how retailers will navigate product launches throughout the pandemic. Apple's close ties to China — where much of its supply chain is based — have also likely meant that Apple has had an ear to the ground in regards to COVID-19 from the very start.


"They have set the pace for the market," Leslie Hand, vice president of the International Data Corporation's Retail Insights, said to Business Insider in May referring to Apple. "I think as we go forward, other retailers will look to make sure they're in the same place."