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Apple's Global Retail Invasion

A flag showing the Apple Computer logo flies outside the Apple shop in Regent Street, London
Kirsty Wigglesworth
A flag showing the Apple Computer logo flies outside the Apple shop in Regent Street, London

Apple Inc. has opened lots of stores over the past couple of years, but today's New York City event is a little different than most.

That's because senior vice president Ron Johnson, Apple's retail guru, had some comments to share about the company's upcoming retail plans for 2010.

First of all, new Apple stores will be "slightly larger" in 2010, and that will come as welcome news to Apple shoppers tired of literally rubbing elbows with one another in stores that have been so crowded with significant foot traffic. How significant? Well, keep in mind that Apple retail did $6.6 billion in revenue in 2009, and hosted a staggering 170 million visitors. Not bad for 273 locations around the world. We constantly talk about how "crowded" these stores are, so bigger spaces might alleviate that.

More importantly, Apple now says it will open 40 to 50 new Apple stores this year, compared to earlier estimates of 25 to 50; over half the openings will be international, including locations in the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, China, and Australia. In fact, Apple will be opening its second stores in London, Paris and Shanghai.

Apple's retail strategy has been an absolute boon to the company. So much so that other companies are desperately trying to capture that same kind of lightning in their bottles. Most recently, Microsoft announced its own retail plans, opening its first store in Arizona last month.

Today's event is occurring at Apple's grand opening store on New York's Upper West Side, featuring the largest single floor of Apple products anywhere, the company's first glass-roofed location, and the largest-ever room for service.

That last part is key.

Apple says in 2009, 10 million people went to the company's so-called "Genius Bars" or did a personal training session for Apple products.

The company is also announcing some changes to its Apple stores, offering gift-wrapping for the first time and a new layaway program: reserve a gift, and Apple will hold it from Dec. 15 to Christmas Eve with no payment. Shoppers can reserve their Apple merchandise online and then pick it up at their nearest store. And all transactions can now be completed with Apple's easy-to-pay touch transactions on iPod Touch and iPhone.

Apple's Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer also made a rare public appearance at the New York store opening. And he tells us that he is, "Looking forward to a great December quarter. We will be ready for customers - I can't give out numbers, but we'll be ready." On Microsoft he says, "Sure we compete a little bit, but it's nice to have a 10-year year start."

Apple keeps finding new ways to make money. And shoppers continue to beat a path to its hundreds of retail doors.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com