On Saturday, Apple opened its first retail store in South Korea in the vibrant city of Seoul. By the end of 2017, the tech giant was operating 499 brick-and-mortar stores (almost half of which are outside the United States) and more are on the way, both in and out of the U.S., in 2018.
With so many new stores built, why hasn't Columbia gotten an Apple store? And more importantly, does it even stand a chance at ever getting one?
According to Mark Rosenbaum, chair and professor of retailing in the University of South Carolina's College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, maybe not.
"One of the reasons why Columbia doesn't have an Apple store is that our retail shopping and our retail dollars are scattered over a very large area given a moderately sized population," Rosenbaum said. "So from a retailer perspective we offer many different locations and with that, retail development and confusion."
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According to Rosenbaum, who is a retail expert but admittedly not an Apple one, the company tends to look for a population center in a city, one full of young or urban professionals with a higher-than-average income level. That's something Columbia lacks, he said.
"We've got pockets scattered all the way from Sandhill to Harbison," Rosenbaum said. "We do not offer retail developers a cohesive story. Downtown Greenville, for example, has a pocket of money and consumers in a very small area making it very lucrative for retailer to easily tap into. It’s a geographically condensed area."
Foot traffic and ease of parking are also important to Apple stores, Rosenbaum explained.
"For example, the Vista may be opportune, however one might question if that area gets enough foot traffic. And even if it did, parking is still an issue," he said.
Another factor: Columbia's retail areas are all very young and the types of consumers they will attract years down the road remains to be seen.
"We're young. We're almost in an infantile stage and we do not send a clear message right now to retail developers on where to find a target market," Rosenbaum said. "We're all still waiting to see exactly how the new development at areas like Killian (Killian's Crossing) and BullStreet are going to go."
To become a more attractive city to Apple and other retailers (and even restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory), Columbia will need to grow a bit more in size and begin to fill in the retail districts so that complete target markets emerge, says Rosenbaum.
"Right now, we just tell a very confusing story to retailers," he said.
*Apple did not return repeated calls and emails from The State requesting interviews.