For the first time, Apple’s latest iPhone was available to pre-order in China at the same time as the rest of the world. After barely a day, shipping times in China had already slipped to “3-4 weeks” for the 6S Plus.
While many people in China will have picked up their new iPhone in one of Apple’s official stores today — and witnessed scenes like this at the flagship store in Beijing — others will have bought their new smartphone from one of many fake Apple dealers throughout the country.
The fake Apple store phenomenon first came to light in 2011, but more are springing up all the time.
There are more than 30 Apple Stores in the southern Chinese town of Shenzhen. But Apple only has one official store and five authorised dealers in the area.
That means that most of the stores in the area — a busy 1km shopping corridor — are unauthorised fakes, but still generally sell real Apple products.
Many of them have been kitted out to look exactly like real Apple stores. The sales staff wear blue T-shirts with a white Apple logo, and display iPads, iPhones and Apple Watches on the same wooden tables you’d see in a real Apple Store.
But none of them hold a candle to an infamous fake Apple Store in Kunming, the modern capital city of China’s southern Yunnan province.
The store was first outed on a blog called BirdAbroad, written by a 27-year-old American Jessica Angelson, who worked for a public health organisation in Kunming in 2011.
After a short time away from the city, she found that three Apple stores had sprung up in her absence — and all of them were fake.
But Angelson noticed that the store had “Apple Store” written on its signs, whereas Apple doesn’t feel the need to add anything to its iconic fruit logo.
At the time, Angelson then discovered, Apple only had four real stores in China, two of which were in Beijing and two in Shanghai.
When Angelson first spoke to the employees of some of the fake Apple Stores, even they appeared to believe that the stores were real.
It’s easy to see why. In the US, all the maple surfaces in Apple Stores are harvested at one particular time of the year in Canada so they all look the same.
The surfaces in the fake store look pretty similar.
There’s an area to try out new Apple products.
And the staff are just as helpful as real Apple employees.
Eventually Chinese trade officials conducted an official investigation, and found that there were more than 20 fake Apple Stores in the same city.
Some were shut down, but more have been appearing than ever in the run-up to the launch of the iPhone 6S. As pre-order demand outstripped supply, unauthorised Apple stores took advantage.
Some employees in fake stores in Shenzhen told Reuters that they were buying the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus from the US and Hong Kong as well as China, and smuggling them across the border into the mainland.
There they can be sold for as much as double the official price to consumers unwilling to wait weeks for stock to arrive in real Apple stores, Reuters reports.