China had a history of making cheap knockoffs and selling them as the real thing. This includes everything from useless Wal-Mart tchatchkes to Rolexes to electronics, but now there’s a new trend that is redefining knock offs. Imitating the stores themselves, rather than the products.
Officially, at least, China has just four Apples stores: two in Beijing, and two in Shanghai. But there are more. An American woman living in Kunming, the capital of the southerly Yunnan Province, found a few Apple stores in her hometown too. Kunming has a population of about 6.8 million, making it a major city by just about any standard except China’s. Still, it is just a blip on the map for most people. That is why the woman was surprised to find as many as five Apple stores in the city, one more than the official number for the entire PRC.
What is remarkable about these stores is that they go all the way to make themselves look like bona fide Apple stores. The sales team all wears the same blue jerseys, and the architecture is the same, down to the winding staircase that is an iconic fixture in so many stores. The only thing that seems to be real in the stores is the product line that they sell.
Everything else is a knock-off and it’s not the only place, in China and around the world. On her blog, Bird Abroad, the American in China has posted photos of other wax Apples from around the world, in places ranging from China’s Xi’an to Zagreb in Croatia, from Mandalay in Myanmar to Flushing, New York.
This morning, Bloomberg News reported that the local authorities have closed two of the shops for failing to operate without a proper business license. But that is just a drop in the bucket. Along with its four official stores, China has 900 authorized sales agents licensed to sell Apple products, but even that is not enough to keep up with demand in the world’s largest consumer market. Revenue from sales in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong amounted to $3.8 billion last quarter, and that is with all the knock-offs still operating. By meeting the needs of local populations, especially in relatively small cities like Kunming and Xi’an (8.25 million people), their prophets could soar even hire. After all, while most people have never even heard of it, Xi’an’s population is greater than any city in the U.S., while Kunming is bigger than any American city except New York. That make it a huge potential market.