By Shawna Williams
Kunming-based blogger Bird Abroad probably had no idea how much attention she'd get when she reported on July 20 that a trio of fake Apple stores had opened in her city. The stores set themselves apart from other unauthorized retailers by cloning the look and feel of a store run by Apple itself:
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.
The Wall Street Journal's China Real Time Report blog labeled the store "the ultimate knock-off." Bloggers and news organizations from the New York Times to Al Jazeera English jumped on the story, treating it as an instance of Chinese copycatting gone to extremes. A Google search for "fake Apple store" now returns more than 1 million results.
While reactions posted by Chinese Apple consumers online have run the gamut from anger to awe for the "thoroughness" of the falsification, the Kunming government says it plans to investigate the stores, and that it has located an additional two unauthorized Apple stores.
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post put boots on the ground and learned that the stores are run by an unnamed Shenzhen-based company (subscription required). According to the SCMP, Apple hasn't managed to trademark the term "Apple Store," although only authorized retailers are legally allowed to use the Apple logo. The paper quotes one unapologetic fake-store employee saying, "Our products are real, our prices are official prices and our service is of the highest standards." The SCMP also notes that even if Apple could shut down the fake stores, it would have little reason to stop another company from selling its products.
This Apple user had often wondered why the company would open three stores within walking distance of each other in nondescript shopping strips on the First Ring Road here in Chengdu (there's a fourth that I know of a bit further away, near Sichuan University). But when I rode past on Sunday to take a picture, the one at Ximianqiao, at least, seemed to be full of shoppers. Assuming that the products are indeed genuine, the distinction between a store run by the actual Apple company and one that just looks the part may turn out to be unimportant for consumers in China—and perhaps elsewhere around the world .
Interestingly, just before the fake-store brouhaha started, SCMP's Go China blog reported that Apple is considering locations for an official store in Chengdu (currently there are only four real Apple stores in China, all in Beijing and Shanghai). If the new store is greeted with a little less excitement than usual, we'll now know why.
Finally, for those who would rather just "fake it" in the privacy of their own homes, there's always this.