Thursday, 21 July 2011 13:19

iCloners clone Apple store for fun and profit in China


China (or is it iChina?) is the king of the cloners, the land where fake electronics can be more popular than the real deal, where intellectual property rights are but figments of western imagination and where not just electronics are faked, but even entire shopfronts.

Whenever I've railed against retailers for NOT doing their utmost to copy the renaissance that is Apple's retail operations, I never actually thought any of them would copy Apple so exactly that they'd end up selling Apple products in a fake Apple store.

Indeed, judging by the pictures over at the BirdAbroad blog, where the author found what at first glance looked like a genuine Apple Store in the far-off Chinese city of Kunming, far far away from the genuine Apple stores in Beijing and Shanghai.

Poorly painted walls and badly finished staircases gave the game away, as did the words 'Apple Store' above the well-known Apple logo, being three simple things that Apple never does.

Amazingly, within a few minutes walk of this store are TWO more fake stores, with one even having the words 'Apple Stoer' listed in that typical Chinese style, where the person putting up the sign clearly speaks zero English or they'd not have made such an elementary and 'give-the-game-away' mistake.

While the store appears to have genuine iPad 2 models, MacBook Pros, iPhone 4 models, a wall of accessories and more, right down to blue T-Shirt wearing staff members, the BirdAbroad blogger couldn't actually tell whether the products on display were genuine, or not.

I mean, we're dealing with China here. The systems could have fallen off the back of a truck, they could have been surplus stocks made without Apple's knowledge, they could be PCs hacked to run Mac OS X, they could be anything - even 'genuine'.

After all, the Kunming guys are supposed to be resellers - they may be doing just that, but doing it in a store that simply rips off Apple's official stores, safe in the knowledge that they're deep in Chinese territory, far, far away from Apple's US lawyers.

Then there's the staff themselves. Apparently, they genuinely believe they're working for Apple itself, even though Apple does not list any Chinese stores in Kunming on its website.

Continued on page two, please read on, where you'll see a story I wrote in 2006 still looks to be very, very valid today!

This would mean each staff member truly believes they are official Apple employees, when instead, they are employees of very clever scammers.

And, given the nature of scammers, can you trust these people for your warranty?

If I was in Kunming, I'd certainly hope so, because warranties are important, after all, and these really might be 'legit' operations without a 'legit' storefront, simply copying Apple as best as possible to boost sales as much as possible.

Undoubtedly, with this store having now gone around the world, Apple in the US is very well aware of this store's existence, and will probably now want to do something about it.

Already, the BirdAbroad blogger had to pretend to be US Apple Store employees simply on an overseas trip to check out Apple stores around the world to be allowed to take photos in peace. 

Before she had that brainwave, the security guards, of which there were three plain-clothes types outside, had tried to stop her from taking those photos, but given the pics available over at BirdAbroad, they clearly failed - and if they are aware of the subsequent global publicity, have probably realised they failed badly in their jobs to presumably stop Apple itself from finding out, futile though that is in our age of camera-equipped smartphones and other devices.

So'¦ if you're taking a trip to China, or even almost anywhere in Asia, and you want to buy something that is truly genuine, it looks like you really do need to stick to the absolutely 100% trusted stores that the local know for certain aren't fake, or your iHappiness may turn to iHell when something inevitably goes wrong.

Finally, as I wrote back in November 2006, Chinese fake electronics are more popular to some Chinese than the real deals - and with news of this story breaking, it could well be that nothing has changed!



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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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