* More than half of new stores will be outside U.S.
* Apple retail exec sees good holiday selling season
* Shares slightly higher (Adds comments from executive, background, byline)
By Clare Baldwin
NEW YORK, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Apple Inc (AAPL.O) said on Thursday it plans to open 40 to 50 retail stores next year as the consumer electronics giant expands its reach to customers.
More than half of the new stores will be outside the United States, with new outlets planned in London, Paris and two in Shanghai.
Speaking ahead of a store opening in New York, Ron Johnson, Apple’s senior vice president of retail, said the company expects the holiday selling season to be a good one.
Apple now operates 280 stores in 10 countries.
The stores, first launched in 2001, have proved to be hugely popular with consumers. Apple hosted 45.9 million store visitors during the September quarter, up 7 percent from a year earlier.
The stores posted revenue of $1.87 billion in the quarter, their highest level ever and up 9 percent from a year earlier.
Annual revenue per store is now around $26 million, Johnson said, or roughly $4,300 per square foot.
Despite the recession, Apple’s sales have shown few signs of slowing. Revenue in its most recent quarter jumped 25 percent.
Apple arch-rival Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) recently made a high-profile foray into retail, opening its first outlet in Arizona last month.
Asked about Microsoft, Johnson said, “retailing is hard ... it’s nice to have a 10-year head start.”
“This is just another place where we compete,” he said. “The world is really large for stores, and so there’s going to be a lot smaller overlap in our retail strategies than there would be in our product strategies.”
Shares of Cupertino, California-based Apple rose 40 cents to $203.65 in midday trade on the Nasdaq. (Reporting by Clare Baldwin; writing and additional reporting by Gabriel Madway in San Francisco; editing by John Wallace)