July 20, 2011 at 3:44 AM ET
BEIJING — Walk by the Apple shop in Beijing’s Sanlitun neighborhood any day and you begin to have an inkling of how popular this brand has become in China in just a couple of years.
Roughly 40,000 visitors a day enter Apple’s shops in Beijing and Shanghai — four times as many as in any of the Apple shops in the United States.
But such popularity can attract imitation that Apple might not view as the sincerest form of flattery.
An American living in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in China’s remote southwest corner, came across a fake Apple shop.
An entire fake Apple shop.
“They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks,” writes the blogger.
But upon closer inspection, our intrepid fellow American realized, “A beautiful ripoff — a brilliant one — the best ripoff store we had ever seen (and we see them every day). But some things were just not right: the stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn’t been painted properly. Apple never writes “Apple Store” on its signs — it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.”
Now it wasn’t clear to the blogger whether the products were fake, too, but they looked real enough.
But here’s the real kicker: Some of the staff appeared to believe they were really working for Apple.
We checked with Apple, which confirmed it does not have a self-standing retail outlet in Kunming, but it does have a reseller. However, that reseller is nowhere near the "fake" shop mentioned in the blog.
Huge fan base
As with many American companies, China is a highly lucrative market for Apple. The company’s chief financial officer was quoted earlier this year as saying, of all the Apple outlets in the world, the China stores clocks on average the highest traffic and highest revenue.
On Tuesday, the Cupertino-based company posted record quarterly earnings, with China sales leaping a record 250 percent since last year and comprising a third of all Apple sales.
While Macs are popular with the trendy and design-oriented set in Beijing and Shanghai, the iPhone and iPad have become ubiquitous among well-heeled youth and business types in all major Chinese cities.
The sleek, stylish products have garnered such a huge fan base in China that quirky testimonies to its popularity are legion:
The release of the white iPhone earlier this year set off a violent frenzy in the Beijing store. That same outlet is also where customers are routinely approached on the premises by resellers or scalpers trying to hawk iPads and iPhones acquired elsewhere or, more commonly, overseas (where the products cost much less than they do in China).
In fact, the practice of buying iPads and iPhones outside China to bring back into the mainland — for resale or for personal use — is so widespread that Chinese customs agents began imposing a 20 percent import tax on any travelers found with such items in their possession.
During Apple’s earnings call on Tuesday, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said China was “very key” to the company's results. He was also quoted as saying Apple hadn’t “learned to play perfectly” in the China market.
But it would seem that some enterprising Chinese know very well how to play in the Apple market.