Any visitor to China or Southeast Asia is undoubtedly familiar with the wide array of knock-offs that China produces: anything from T-shirts to handbags to DVDs. These fakes are often quite convincing, but the quality is, in reality, much shoddier than the name-brand product, and of course, the whole concept is a giant violation of intellectual property rights.
An American blogger in Kunming, China is receiving high praise for discovering what may be the most ambitious knock-off yet: an Apple store, complete with winding staircases, Apple logos, and employees in blue shirts and Apple name tags. Some of the employees even believed that they were working for a real Apple store.
The blogger, BirdAbroad explains that it was 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 it’s [sic] signs — it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.” According to Apple’s website, it only has a handful of stores in China, and certainly not in Kunming, which BirdAbroad describes as something of a backwater. Even with the media furor, the store is still apparently operating.
BirdAbroad asked her new readers to report on fake Apple stores around the world, and the results were jaw-dropping. Many of the ripoffs were obvious (for example, there is one establishment called “Apple Story” in Flushing, NY), but some were even more elegant than BirdAbroad’s original find. It may, however, have been the best that Kunming had to offer in terms of Apple store knockoffs. BirdAbroad found two other fake Apple stores just around the corner from her initial find, one with a misspelled sign that said “Apple Stoer.”
Customers in Kunming are understandably upset, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to get their money back anytime soon. ”The biggest thing I’m upset about is that I spent so much money at this store and I don’t even know whether it is real or not,” one woman told Reuters. ”What can I do? They aren’t going to give me a refund.”
Employees and managers are adamant that although the store is not authorized by Apple, either as an Apple store or reseller, they’re selling genuine products. “The media is painting us to be a fake store but we don’t sell fakes, all our products are real, you can check it yourself,” said one anonymous employee. “There is no Chinese law that says I can’t decorate my shop the way I want to decorate it.”
In the meantime, the Chinese authorities are jumping into action, undoubtedly inspired by the unwanted media attention. Industrial and commercial officials will begin to inspect the city’s electronics stores with the hope of uncovering any other fakes. The fact that this publicity inspired direct action is in itself fairly amazing – as BirdAbroad observed on her blog, “this kind of thing never happens” in China. It’s yet another reminder of how important and influential online media can be.
Photo from goodrob13 via flickr.