Spot the difference – fake Apple stores spring up in China
The cheap, hardworking Chinese worker has helped Apple generate record profits from its range of iPods, iPads and elegant, if slightly overpriced, computing devices.
But his cavalier attitude to Western business protocol can also provide the occasional headache.
Having endured negative headlines about working conditions and suicide rates at their manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, the Californian technology giant is now suffering from another PR crisis that could only be Made in China.
This one involves the country's legendary disregard for trademark laws.
Not content with churning out fake watches, designer clothes and perfumes, entrepreneurial locals appear to have succeeded in faking entire Apple Stores.
Their existence was revealed by an expatriate US blogger called BirdAbroad, who was surprised to discover that three supposed Apple Stores had sprung up in the provincial city of Kunming.
Although they looked like the real thing – right down to the minimalist interior decoration, winding staircases, and over-friendly staff who wear blue T-shirts – the blogger quickly came to the conclusion that the stores were copies.
They appeared to be shoddily constructed, ill lit, and had the words "Apple Store" and "Apple Stroe" in large letters on their outside. Real Apple Stores simply display the brand's fruit-shaped logo. The stores were not listed on Apple's official website, which suggests China's only genuine outlets are in Beijing and Shanghai.
Spokesmen for Apple have so far refused to discuss the existence of the fake store, hoping perhaps to avoid a public trademark row which might upset China's sensitive powers-that-be.
Some commentators have suggested the Kunming stores might simply be part of Apple's authorised network of resellers, who are trying a little too hard to emulate the real thing and have therefore breached some of the company's stricter guidelines about how they are supposed to present their products.
However, that theory was shot down by the Wall Street Journal, whose China correspondent last night managed to persuade an employee of the store to take part in a telephone interview. They made no attempt to claim that the store was officially endorsed by Apple.
"It doesn't make much of a difference for us whether we're authorised or not," he said. "I just care that what I sell every day are authentic Apple products, and that our customers don't come back to me to complain about the quality of the products."
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