The Far East is well known for producing replica products that look almost - but never quite - like the real thing. Apple's iconic designs make it the perfect target for such imitation, but retailers in China may be taking the process a step too far with entire imitation Apple Stores.
According to an unnamed Chinese resident who blogs under the nom de plume BirdAbroad, the city of Kunming where she lives is now blessed with one of Apple's instantly recognisable bright-white shopping centres. Everything is in place: the iPads used in place of product pricing stickers, the plain white walls adorned with Apple-themed art, and the spiral staircase to a special seating area. Even the employees were wearing the Apple t-shirts and oversized ID badges expected of official Apple Store employees.
Sadly, appearances can be deceptive. "You have already guessed the punchline," BirdAbroad writes on her blog (opens in new tab). "This was a total Apple store ripoff. 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."
Other small signs gave away the fictional nature of the apparent Apple expansion into Kunming, like the sign actually reading "Apple Store" instead of the traditional minimalist logo that graces the real thing. Even the name badges were fake, with each bearing the identical designation "Staff" instead of the wearer's name.
The story gets stranger, however: not only had the entrepreneurs unknown set up a near-perfect replica of an official Apple Store, they had even managed to convince the staff that they were working for Apple. "Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple. Clearly, they had also been told that above all, they must protect the brand.
"As I took these photos I was quickly accosted by two salespeople inside, and three plain clothes security guys outside, putting their hands in my face and telling me to stop taking photographs, that it wasn’t allowed," BirdAbroad explains. "And why wasn’t it allowed? Because their boss told them so. I…may or may not have told them that we were two American Apple employees visiting China and checking out the local stores. Either way, they got friendlier and allowed me to snap some pictures."
Those pictures reveal a near-perfect copy, and demonstrate the lengths that those living in countries famous for their lax approach to intellectual property, copyright, and trademark laws will go to in order to latch on to a successful product or brand. While the quality of the psuedo-Apple Store spotted by BirdAbroad might be impressive, it's far from unique. "A ten minute walk around the corner revealed not one, but TWO more rip-off Apple stores," she explains, posting a photograph of one that even manages to call itself an "Apple Stoer."
While Apple isn't ignoring China - the company has official Apple Stores in Beijing and Shanghai - it's clear that there's a demand for the company's products that just isn't being met, leaving a gap for ruthless entrepreneurs who don't mind a bit of chicanery to exploit.
The full photo series can be seen on BirdAbroad's WordPress blog (opens in new tab).