Eight years ago, Tim Cook, then Apple's chief operating officer, was so bullish on the performance of the company’s stores in China he told analysts its four retail locations in the country—one of which sat beneath a glittering 40-foot tall shaft of glass in Shanghai’s ritzy Pudong district—were generating more revenue than most others in the world. By the end of 2011, company executives predicted, Apple would have as many as 25 stores in China.
Instead, Apple missed that goal by four years, hampered by China’s byzantine government bureaucracy and inventive forms of retail fraud as well as other dubious tactics for which it was unprepared. After finally hitting its stride with a total of 26 store openings in 2015 and 2016, Apple has slammed the brakes on its retail expansion in China, launching only four new locations in the country since then, according to an analysis by The Information. The primary reason, according to former Apple employees, is that some stores have fallen short of expectations, especially in China’s smaller cities.