At China's fake Apple Store defiant staff face angry customers

Kunming, China — The Globe and Mail

An employee in a fake Apple Store gestures with his middle finger to a photographer trying to take pictures of the store in Kunming, Yunnan province July 21, 2011. (CHINA DAILY/REUTERS/China Daily)

Customers at an Apple Store in the Chinese city of Kunming berated staff and demanded refunds on Friday after the shop was revealed to be an elaborate fake, sparking a media and Internet frenzy.

Long a target of counterfeiters and unauthorized resellers, Apple Inc. was alerted to the near flawless fake shop by an American blogger living in the southwestern city, more than 1,600 km from the nearest genuine Apple stores in Beijing and Shanghai.

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"When I heard the news I rushed here immediately to get the receipt, I am so upset," a customer surnamed Wang told Reuters, near tears. "With a store this big, it looks so believable who would have thought it was fake?"

Wang, a petite, 23-year-old office worker who would not give her first name, spent 14,000 yuan ($2,170 U.S.) last month buying Macbook Pro 13-inch and a 3G iPhone from the Kunming store. She wasn't issued a receipt at the time, with staff telling her to come back later.

"Where's my receipt, you promised me my receipt last month!" Ms. Wang shouted at employees, before being whisked away to an upstairs room.

Staff were also angry at the unwanted attention after more than 1,000 media outlets picked up the story and pictures of the store from the BirdAbroad blog.

"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 employee, who didn't want to give his name.

"There is no Chinese law that says I can't decorate my shop the way I want to decorate it."

While upset at the coverage and unwilling to be fully identified, staff were cooperative when Reuters visited the store on Friday, answering questions and allowing the store to be filmed.

Another employee, surnamed Yang, said business had been affected, with customers demanding they prove the authenticity of their products.

Apple has declined to comment on the fake store or others like it dotted around China. The Cupertino, California-based firm has just four genuine Apple Stores in Beijing and Shanghai and none in Kunming.

With about 3.2 million inhabitants, Kunming, the capital of the mountainous southwestern province of Yunnan, is small by Chinese standards and not well known in the West.

Located not far the borders of Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, the city's fast-growing industrial and manufacturing base is emblematic of China's ascent on the world stage. Kingdom of the Little People, a theme park featuring slapstick performances by people with dwarfism, is nearby.

The fake Apple Store is situated along a crowded pedestrian-only shopping street, its black Apple logo gleaming. Inside, with its Apple posters on the walls and iPads and Macbook computers displayed on wooden tables, the store looks every bit like Apple Stores found all over the world but for some slightly shoddy workmanship and one or two errant details.

Not all customers were bothered by the revelations that the store was not the genuine article.

"As long as their products are real its okay - after all, you enter a store not to look at anything except their products," said Hu Junkai, 18. "If the products you buy are real why do you care whether the store is a copy?"

Ms. Wang was not convinced.

"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," she said.

"What can I do? They aren't going to give me a refund."

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