When Steve Jobs returned to Apple as interim CEO in 1997, the company relied on PC and electronics stores for the bulk of its Macintosh sales. It was a difficult environment considering the success cheaper Windows-based platforms were enjoying at that time. Then Vice President for Worldwide Operations, Tim Cook, joined Apple in 1998 and the two men laid out plans to transform the company's retail program. Jobs believed this required a transformation in the relationship with the customer who should be afforded more control over the presentation of the products. The new approach saw Apple launch its online shop in 1997 while the first two physical retail stores opened on May 19, 2001 in Tysons, Virginia and Glendale, California.
While some analysts predicted failure for the new store, they enjoyed a lucrative opening weekend, taking in $599,000. By 2004, Apple's new retail model raked in $1 billion in sales. Today, some 20 years on from the opening of the two stores, Apple boasts a physical retail empire of some 500 establishments, more than half of which are in the United States. As of May 2021, there are 271 Apple Stores around the U.S. while China (including Hong Kong and Macau) has the second highest total with 50. The UK comes third for Apple Stores with 38. The stores themselves have been described as being a temple for the Apple brand and they have been credited with dramatically raising its profile. The concept's success can be seen by the fact that competitors such as Samsung, Xiaomi and Huawei are pursuing a similar strategy and opening their own physical stores. However, it will take a long time until they come remotely close to matching the Apple Store empire.