The blog A Bird Abroad comes from an American health worker for an international agency stationed in Kunming, China, a city which she describes as ‘thousands of miles from some really great places!’ But she reports (with the following photographs as proof) that even though Kunming might be the Fargo of China, it is moving up so fast that not only does it have an Apple Store, it has three!
If you haven’t already caught on, these aren’t real Apple stores. Apple only has four stores in China and they are in places that you have heard of, like Beijing and Shanghai. This store is a copy, right down to the smallest detail, with only some minor flaws in the execution.
What is amazing is how quickly and fully Apple has ingrained itself into China’s mindset, such that they would recognize and need to copy even the smallest details of their store design. And in case you are wondering, this is not an authorized retail channel practicing the old adage about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Apple has a strict code for its resellers. The name of the real store and ‘Authorized Reseller’ must be prominently displayed. As you can see from these pictures, they are not.
But they do seem to have every other detail nailed down, making this perhaps the most elaborate knockoff of an American product since China’s failed Y-10 project to copy the Boeing 707! They got it right down to the chunky name tags, the blue T shirts with the Apple logo, and the “Ain’t I an amazing super-geek because I work here!” vibe from the employees.
The authenticity of that vibe may be attributed to the fact that, according to the posting on A Bird Abroad, these employees absolutely believe that they are working for Apple Computer in a real Apple Computer Store.
Now the top question in my mind is also likely to be the first question in the mind of the people at Apple’s corporate headquarters. What are they selling? Is the fake store selling real Apple products or knockoffs? My guess is that since Apple already has the lowest possible manufacturing cost, it is real merchandise or at least assembled from real components, diverted somewhere from within the supply chain. Depending on the prevalence of these stores, Apple’s fantastic market growth in China might in fact be under-reported!
This story is apparently gaining worldwide attention although Apple has not made any public statement regarding the fake store (which is different than saying that they are ignoring it). Reporters from news services are apparently swarming on the store and getting interesting stories, such as seeing one customer come in and complain that they were not given a reciept when they made their purchase and still have not been given one a month later. (Good clue that this store is not 100 percent legit). In addition there are reports of other fake Apple stores in other Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam.
While the authorities have shut down some of the fake stores because they did not have the proper permits, others remain open because they are ‘breaking no laws’ and Apple has apparently not pushed the issue. This seems to illustrate that Apple is willing to play by the local rules for the sake of its explosive growth in China. ‘Having the right permits’ usually means that they have the right connections with the right people. So rather than upset the ‘right people’, Apple is willing to put up with some fake stores as long as they are selling real product at full retail prices. A tougher choice might come later if these non-authorized resellers don’t match up to the service standards of authorized resellers and could damage the brand as a consequence.