"I go into an Apple store and it instantly changes. It's like Prozac. It's an unbelievable feeling -- like no other," Cook said Tuesday at a Goldman Sachs technology conference.
A visit to an Apple store, which is often crowded, reminds him of the company's place in pop culture -- and the role it plays in promoting the company's products.
The stores are also ringing up a lot of business for the Cupertino company, averaging more than $50 million each in revenue last year, Cook said.
"Whoever thought a store could do that?" he said.
Apple now has 400 stores in 12 countries and plans to open 30 more this year, most of them outside the United States. The company will open its first store in Turkey this year, he said.
Apple, once criticized for creating its own retail store strategy, something no tech company had successfully done before, now relies on them to market their products, Cook said.
"They are the face of Apple," he said. "People don't think of the Cupertino headquarters -- they think of the local Apple store. Last quarter, we welcomed 120 million people in our stores. That's almost 10 million people a week in our stores."
Some Apple stores can't handle the crush of customers, Cook added, so the company is closing 20 stores so they can be remodeled and expanded.
Cook attributed the success of the iPad to Apple's retail stores, where customers were able to play with the device that was new to the consumer market when it was launched in 2010.
"I don't think we would have been nearly as successful with the iPads if it had not been for our stores," Cook said. "Here's a product coming out. It's different. (It was believed to be) this heavy thing the Hertz guy was holding that nobody wanted. Our stores were a place to explore, try out and see what it could do."
Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496; follow him at Twitter.com/svwriter.