Why Apple Isn’t Worried About Theft in Its Stores

Nothing works once it's outside the store

Key Takeaways

  • Apple Stores might look like a honeypot for shoplifters, but they have invisible protections. 
  • Apple Stores make more money per square foot than any other retailer. 
  • The stores feel more like coffee bars than retail spaces.
A view of an Apple store from above, looking at 20 tables set up with demo devices and dozens of customers browsing.

Apple

Another week, another bunch of crooks robbing an Apple Store, this time in Santa Rosa, California. Good luck selling that haul! 

Apple stores are amazingly open, inviting, and easy to use. You can walk in at any time and start trying things out, without having to ask a surly store clerk to take the sole demo unit out of the locked display case. But the same open-plan can also be viewed as a minimum-security venue with high-value, easily-grabbable goods just laid out there on tables, ready to snatch and run. 

The catch is, most of those devices will be useless if stolen. 

"Apple leaves their expensive gear out because the margin of possibility that someone will successfully steal it is so slim. The security measures set in place are so strong, and several of those measures are very visible (security guards, security cameras, and a consistently large number of employees working)," Kyle MacDonald, director of operations at GPS fleet tracking company Force by Mojio, told Lifewire via email. 

Open Plan

Apple Stores are a very different experience than most other retail spaces. They don't feel like high-pressure sales machines. Quite the opposite, in fact. The vibe is more like a coffee bar or a social space. Large tables are laden with the latest gadgets, and you can check them out for as long as you like, with no uninvited sales pitches. Most stores don't even have a checkout section, and yet Apple Stores make more money per square foot than any other retailer in the world

""Apple leaves their expensive gear out because the margin of possibility that someone will successfully steal it is so slim."

"At a Best Buy or Radio Shack, customers can't touch the display models, they'll be behind glass or inside a locked case. And those stores rarely have more than 10 demo units on hand at any given time," Matt Miller, CEO of insurance tech company Embroker, told Lifewire via email. 

This environment is a clear temptation to opportunistic thieves or planned heists. And after-hours heists that target the back-office storerooms are usually more worthwhile. But stealing those demo units is a total waste of time, thanks to Apple's neat security protections. 

It boils down to this: If you remove a demo unit from the store, it notices, and stops working. 

Do Not Steal

You may have noticed that the iPhones, iPads, and Macs in the Apple Store aren’t the same as the ones we own. For example, you cannot set a passcode on the iPhones and lock them. If you reboot an in-store Mac, it resets itself to the original demo-unit state. This lets you try out any of the features without the staff having to reset all those machines every night. 

And since at least 2016, Apple has also included special anti-theft features in these custom operating-system builds. One of these detects when the device has been removed from the store and is no longer connected to the store’s Wi-Fi network. In this case, the phone switches into a lost mode and stops working.

A view looking into an Apple store with customers looking at the demos and displays.

Phillipe Yuan / Unsplash

In a five-year-old article that coincided with Apple removing security tethers in its stores, Apple news site 9to5 Mac detailed the then-new security features. The phone will do nothing but display a message telling the user to return it to its store. It also informs the thief that the phone is being tracked. And just like the iPhone you might own, these units are activation-locked, which means that they cannot be unlocked, wiped, or otherwise reset. 

Secret Deterrent

But for a deterrent to work, potential ne'er-do-wells need to know about it. You can bet the perpetrators of the latest Santa Rosa smash-and-grab didn't know about these security measures or didn't know how hard they are to defeat. So why doesn't Apple make it more widely known? 

One might counter that it's already widely known enough. While the odd Apple Store rip-off makes the news, it doesn't seem to happen very often, so maybe the message has already gotten to the right people. 

And the other part of this is keeping the Apple Stores' relaxed atmosphere. If you start putting up signs informing visitors about anti-theft measures, it'll harsh their mellow. There's a reason the hi-def security cameras are hidden so well they're hard to spot in the store. 

The whole setup is typical Apple: Everything looks low-key and easy, but every part of the experience is planned and thought through.

Was this page helpful?