Fake Apple Store: Update with Video

As we head towards 1,000,000 views in less than 72 hours over here on BirdAbroad, I think it’s time to take stock and give an update on China’s favorite ripoff Apple store.

As many of you know, this story has struck a nerve in the Western world, and has spread virally…well, basically everywhere. Reuters is claiming that the story has been been picked up by nearly 1,000 media outlets – and I can tell you that I have personally been contacted by every major news source in the US and Europe, included the AP, AFP, CNN, BBC, ABC, NBC, and other similarly acronymed outfits.

The Chinese news media is also catching on, with several hundred stories have been published locally and around the country. This seems like a good moment to introduce you all to an excellent and relevant word in Chinese: shanzhai (pronounced SHAN-JAI). It means fake, ripoff, counterfeit. As in:

“Woah, these Adidas are on sale for five dollars!!”

“Dude, save your money. Totally shanzhai.”

An increasing number of Chinese people have contacted me, variously lamenting the enormous prevalence of shanzhai goods in China, but plenty of others have chastised me for even bothering to talk about this on the internet – shanzhai is unstoppable in China, they say, and point out that they don’t really care if the Apple store is shanzhai or not. Some have even said that Apple deserves to have shanzhai stores, since their products are absurdly expensive, despite being made right here in China.

I’ve also been called upon to publicly apologize to the city and people of Kunming for…I don’t even know what. Presumably for besmirching their good name.

As for the main store that I photographed in my original post: an employee of the store has confirmed that it is unauthorized. An Apple spokeswoman has also confirmed that it is unauthorized (before they stopped responding to media inquiries entirely, or so it seems).

The Toronto Star reported that they had reached the manager of the fake Apple store, who said that while the store is indeed unauthorized, the wares they sell are real. Reuters has reported that angry customers of the Kunming “Apple Store” have come knocking, demanding receipts for their previous purchases of Apple products.

An unnamed “senior U.S. trade official” has even weighed in, saying, “Confronting [the challenges we continue to face combating intellectual property theft in China] is a high priority for the Obama Administration.”

Regardless of the international furor, let me assure you that the store is still open and seems to be operating as normal. I have heard that international news crews will be descending on Kunming shortly, but until their footage surfaces let me offer you this bit of video, taken by me a few hours ago (Friday evening, China time).


94 thoughts on “Fake Apple Store: Update with Video

  1. So are the products they sell real or fake? Is there anyway to tell? Obviously the store employees are not going to say they sell fakes.

    • The product may be real but it may be challenging to get a warranty for it and even harder it may to register it for AppleCare. The AppleCares are registered directly into Apple’s system and thats how the Apple Support staff can check whether you are eligible to get help or not. The registration done by the user herself at the Apple support website also requires, that the sale of the device was registered into Apple’s system: you cannot have AppleCare on a box that was never sold anywhere. The worst case scenario is that you are sold a 250$ AppleCare box that isn’t and cannot be registered. So it is real as a product, but still fake because you cannot use it together with the ‘real’ product you bought.

      • I have seen fake iPhone’s here in America. It apparently isn’t that difficult to do. The story doesnt say whether the store was selling secondhand, but still genuine, Apple merchandise or if even the merchandise was fake, but it’s not impossible.

    • They most certainly are. They have been the latest craze in China when I was there last month. And they are coming in all colours and shapes, even those that dyson does not make — think oval, but in desktop size, or heart-shaped. Not ever have I seen a single genuine one.

    • Probably. But I *do* know that there’s practically no visible A/C in an Apple store – it’s probably because of their ‘we’re magic’ mindset.

  2. Wow. This is incredible.

    Who would have thougth that this sort of thing could be so high-end? In Mexico, where my family comes from, you see little bits and pieces of Americana (i.e. the poorly drawn Disney characters on all the corners stores to attract kids) popping up to get attention.

    But nothing as elaborate as this. Thanks for your keen eye, BirdAbroad!

  3. Wow, congratulations for the post, I believe that Apple should take a position about having your brand distributed illegally! Funny thing is how the Chinese complain about a bad habit, actually a stigma that marks China’s tens of years!

  4. Great to see such insane coverage of the topic that has to be some kinda record for a free WordPress blog, also appreciate the time taken for followup coverage.

    I still don’t think the true concept has sunken into many people yet on what happened and how no-one else noticed or said anything until your post….

  5. I don’t see the big deal if the products they are selling are “real.” It’s almost the same as buying an Apple product from….say Amazon. The product is still an Apple.

    • It’s a big deal because that store is not authorized to sell Apple products. You could say it’s like a third party selling the products, but it’s still the problem of intellectual property theft and impersonation. But since laws are so lax in China, it’s no wonder that these have started popping up.

      ..well China needs to get more creative instead of imitating, stealing, and pirating other countries’ ideas/products.

      • 3rd party vendors selling electronics are common in Asian countries (incl. China, Korea, and Japan) although number of these shops vary between the countries (Note: I am not talking specifically about Apple products here). It is not a theft of intellectual property.

        By law, selling unauthorized products is not illegal in these countries provided that the thing is authentic. and like the owner of the store said, he can decorate the place however he wants.

        The problem, however, is that he is using the brand name and logo for the store, and this goes against the international copyright law. If he named his store something like “i.e. X Electronics” he would have been fine, but now it will probably be shut down or ordered to change the name of store

        As for the product, they sell the real stuff, runs official Apple software and you can register the products online. That being said, the owner is probably making more $ than the “real” Apple stores since he doesn’t have to pay loyalty fee and % profit to Apple. So in the end, customers don’t lose anything, but Apple will lose $. Now, since the store is likely be closed soon, the owner will also lose $ and all employees will lose jobs (I actually feel sorry for them since they thought it was a real Apple store).

      • Who cares that Apple loses a few thousand dollars in license fees? I feel sorry for the guys and girls in the video who are likely going to lose their jobs over this.

    • They might be ‘real’ but it doesnt mean they are from a legitimate source. Chances are they’re stolen or obtained illegally, you wouldn’t buy a MacBook on eBay just because the seller says it’s real, would you?

      • Stolen or obtained illegally? you are too simple and too naive, bro!

        One obvious scenario is that he is buying real product in bulk from Authorized Apple distributor and sell them in his own store with a premium. There is nothing illegal about that.

    • I agree with Hussain, i dont see the problem with it at all, the products they are selling are not jia de (chinese for fake) and register and work like all Apple products when connected to iTunes.

      Like Wang, i suspect this is a 3rd party selling agent who has just come up with a nice shop and t-shirts similar to an Apple store, once again i see nothing wrong with this.

      Who really cares if Apple loses some dollars in license fee’s, all their products are manufactured here in China at a fraction of the real costs and they are making a killing in the unit price of the product anyway.

      Good on the Chinese as there really is nothing American about Apple

      • I am by no means a fan of Apple products, as I think the products themselves are OK but egregiously overpriced and over-hyped. On the other hand, no one is holding a gun to consumers’ heads to buy them, so they must be doing something right. I just don’t see what it is, other than great marketing.

        But I would definitely have a problem with a store passing itself off as an Apple store when it is not. That is simply a deceptive business practice. As for selling the products themselves, assuming they are real, Apple does have a right to determine through what channels their products are sold. Like it or not, they are Apple’s intellectual property, and they have a right to maintain their brand identity. You’re not going to see brand new iPhones being peddled at a flea market any time soon.

        The biggest problem I see for consumers, again assuming the products themselves are not knockoffs, would be obtaining warranty coverage. Here in the US, products can be purchased either with a US warranty or with an “international” warranty (AKA “grey market”), sometimes even through the same store. I once purchased a Nikon camera online and it turned out to be grey market. The salesman called and asked me if I also wanted to buy the accessories such as the battery and charger. I asked, “Well, aren’t they included?” He finally did throw them in, but when I received the camera, the manual was not original but a photocopy. I never did business with that outfit again. You save a little money (not a lot) buying grey market, but it’s nice if they are at least honest about telling you what you’re buying.

  6. When I told me friend about this, she laughed and replied “what is so surprising about it?”. She told me few years ago when her mother visited China, she saw a whole building as a fake Hermes store. It was a WHOLE building comparing to an Apple store. Ha! Now beat that!

  7. @BirdAbroad

    If you’re here in China you may not be able to see this blog, because it’s hosted on wordpress.com …

  8. There are fake Disneyland too, search for it on Youtube.

    Nice work reporting this and the video. I am amazed. I wonder if there is any fake Starbuck. Now no one would be able to tell easily.

    • I work at Starbucks, here in the States, and I could probably tell right away, or by the way they make their drinks, if it is real or not. Licensed stores don’t even make good drinks, since the employees are working for the store or airport (where licensed stores are) and not for Starbucks.

  9. If the merchandise sold in this Kunming store is truly authentic Apple product, as claimed by the store manager to The Toronto Star, and if the store is not an authorized Apple dealer, then from where are they obtaining their authentic Apple merchandise? Imported through illegal means? Or perhaps from Apple’s own manufacturer in China.

    Apple outsources the manufacturing of its iPhone and iPad to a mega-factory in Southern China, called Foxconn (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn). One possible scenario – Foxconn discreetly churns out authentic Apple products in excess of Apple’s purchase order. Unbeknownst to Apple, Foxconn’s authentic ‘excess production’ is sold and distributed illegally to unauthorized dealers in China, like the store in Kunming.

    It matters not whether the merchandise is or is not authentic Apple product, or from where it came. When peddled by unauthorized Apple dealers, it is no different from merchandise ‘fallen from the back of a truck’. It is stolen intellectual property and merchandise, stolen from Apple, an American company stripped of legal recourse within China’s walls. What can Apple do? Apple can stop outsourcing to China and return sole production of its wares to the US, where it can better protect its interests.

    • He is buying them from Apple Store and selling them with higher prices in his own store. Simple as that. Don’t be a drama queen.

      • The store manager already mentioned that they sell products at the same price than Apple sells them online. Knowing that it is very, very hard to get discounts for Apple products (unless they are refurbished), it’s difficult to see how on earth this business model could be legitimate.

        For the customer, the main problem may be a lack of warranty. In the worst case she will also buy an AppleCare that cannot be registered with the main product.

      • Clearly, ERIC’s “simple” scenario is, as TIMO reasoned, a faulty business model. If the unauthorized Kunming store were indeed re-selling, for a higher price, merchandise acquired from an authorized Apple dealer, then what Chinese shopper, both shrewd and frugal, would purchase for more what he/she could easily buy for less at any of the numerous authorized Apple stores scattered throughout Kunming? Certainly the market would not bear such a price mark-up.

        Additionally, the China Daily newspaper has reported that the Kunming store in question, as confirmed by its store manager, is selling genuine Apple products for the same prices as Apple’s authorized stores (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2011-07/23/content_12966615.htm). This further discredits ERIC’s hasty assertion that the store in Kunming was purchasing its wares from an authorized Apple store. The sham Kunming store, like any store, is in the business of making money; not a single RMB would be profited from the supposed re-selling of authentic Apple products for the same price.

        I ask again – From where are they obtaining their ‘authentic’ Apple merchandise? For the unauthorized Apple store to make a profit, two possible scenarios remain. The store is procuring genuine Apple merchandise illegally, i.e. contraband or ‘fallen off the back of a truck’, as I suggested previously. Or the store is instead hawking counterfeit Apple products. (One could understand why the store manager, interviewed by the China Daily newspaper, could not claim anything but authenticity of their Apple merchandise; who would openly admit to charging genuine article prices for fakes?) Whichever scenario is the truth, both are unlawful.

        For a country with a reputation for counterfeiting, for a government that condones illicit business practices, and for a people that abuse the motto, ‘the ends justify the means,’ in their singular quest for more, it may be a challenging concept to understand and accept that theft is theft, whether a counterfeit iPad, a factory’s ‘excess production’ of authentic Apple merchandise, or an unauthorized Apple store.

      • FYI…the China Daily is a state-funded, English language daily newspaper published in the People’s Republic of China.

  10. Apple products can’t really be faked, because of the software and network components of the products (iTunes, AppStore etc. that a fake couldn’t access). The products are real the store is an Apple Store lookalike.

    But so what? China will soon be Apple’s biggest market (according to Tim Cooke) and there are only four Apple stores in the whole country. So most of the product must be moving through resellers.

    BTW companies didn’t used to run their own stores in competition with their resellers, because obviously the company’s store makes more profit (the wholeseller profit plus the retailer profit) and will always get preferential treatment when supplies run short. Apple is only doing it because there are really no competing products.

    BTW BirdAbroad, you are a guest in China. It would be a mistake to believe American law applies in China. After all, Chinese laws don’t apply in America.

  11. They are real “fakes”. Who do you think makes the iPhone if not chinese industrialists ?

    Then how hard is it to make a little bit more on the side to sell to real “fake” stores and pocket 100% of the money ?

  12. Mike: Number of customers don’t have anything to do with something being fake or real 🙂

    BirdAbroad: If Apple says it’s fake, it’s fake. What makes me really nervous is the finesse with which the Chinese create an experience. It is and shall remain unsurpassed – whether it be fake or real. You’ve got to doff your hat to the real expertise of these businessmen/women – check out the staircase, the furniture…you can’t make out the quality in the video, but you sure can see how well the look has been duplicated.

    I think it’s impossible to curtail piracy, theft of identity, and plagiarism; in an economically unequal world – yet, if they had the money to create this whole store, they weren’t really on the pavement with begging bowls in their hands.

    What I appreciate a lot is the fact that women so thoroughly outnumber the men in the shop 🙂

  13. The music on the video is klezmer: “An Eyropeyishe Kolomeyke” by Raderman’s and Beckerman’s Orchestra.

  14. zzzz such old story and only now the West finally picks up on it…

    I live in Shenzhen, the birthplace of all that is Apple (They are manufactured 20 km from my home in the Foxconn factory) and the shanzai Apple stores have been on for years already here (SEG computer market) with “occasional crackdowns” to keep it decent.

    More exactly the rise of the shanzai Apple stores are in China since the iPhone came out and Apple decided to leave it out of Chinese market for whatever shitty reason they came up with (I personally think failed negotiations with China mobile / unicom because Apple wants carriers to lock the iPhone to keep it “exclusive”)…

    Anyway it took Apple over 2 years to finally get a deal done with China Unicom, the second biggest mobile network in China but actually by far the least popular one also while right next door (Hong Kong) people could just buy an unlocked iPhone (you could not even get those in the West at that time… as I remember they were all locked to specific carriers and you needed to hack the iPhone to get other sim cards to work with it).

    So logically smarter people saw a good business model and start ordering iPhones in HK, smuggle them to Shenzhen / China and sell them tax free but still added 20-30% on top of the price because most people could not just walk in to HK and buy their own iPhone or Apple product, Chinese people still need a visa for Hong Kong (even today). But because of the demand and electronic hunger of Chinese people even with the increased price it was no problem to get those iPhones sold and from one came the other and the business was born… I still remember one of the first stores here to offer the iPhone was “Drivepro”, a Shenzhen store that sells electronics products not accessible to Chinese market at often nearly double the price as you could get in Hong Kong.

    The most funny thing is that while you might think it is scam or bad for Apple or Steve doesn’t know about it… nothing is further from the truth… the Apple products sold are genuine enough to validate in iTunes which means Apple knows where they get activated from…

    Think about it from the Apple point of view… Apple gets access to sell in the world’s biggest market (China) while easily skipping any formal negotiations with the Chinese govt. for Apple stores, technology restrictions and what not the Chinese govt. imposes on software and hardware without investing loads of money on exclusive Apple shops in special locations and skipping most of the tax laws imposed in China on Western goods (even if manufactured in China itself)… And the most funny part of it is that while they “don’t approve” Apple certainly is not going to try and stop it because it will just kick their own feet if those stores get shut down and sales go down. Unless of course someone like the bird abroad makes such a ruckus that the West wakes up from something that has been going on for years already that Apple has no other choice but to formally acknowledge the existence of those stores and make a fake attempt in getting them shut down.

    You would be surprised to find out just how low quality the hardware components in Apple products are, and how underpaid the people are who manufacture Apple’s “exclusive” toys for the price you paid.

  15. In China everything is fake. I am not surprised at all.

    I can see in Europe the products that are sold here are either of law quality Chinese products or have manufactured western goods in China with low quality. I have given up buying Chinese manufactured products, and I stick to products that are made in eastern Europe. We should stop all our trades with China and bring back the manufactures to west and build with our own standards. You might pay a bit more, but you know that the quality is high and it longs longer than chinese garbage quality.

  16. You are uber-cool. Thanks for taking the vid. It’s cool to see other countries embracing western culture despite the outrage of others regarding infractions of intellectual property.

    I know corporate America loses money but this should be our patriotic queue to continue to be innovative as the ingenuity of the American man & woman will have a place in the heart of many across the world for years to come.

  17. Not all fakes from China are poor copies as some would believe. I have seen fake mobile phones with the same quality as the real thing but better features. This is because a lot of fakes are made in the same factories as the real thing, after hours. Some Chinese workers supplement their income by continuing to produce after they should have gone home. The resulting products are then sold on the black market. How many Apple laptops could you produce in an hour or twos unofficial overtime? By the way this practice goes on the world over, but the Chinese are masters at it.

  18. Saw your first post on the subject on Freshly Pressed a few days ago… happened to see this BBC story today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14273444
    Looks like the crackdown’s underway!

    I spent a year in China, near Shanghai, last year and really love stumbling upon others’ China blogs, especially ones as well-done as yours (even though I never made it to Kunming). Thanks for stirring up some nostalgia!

  19. It simply prove that Apple’s distribution model fail and Apple is not servicing it’s customers well enough. I am in Singapore and the iOS penetration rate in our city is many times higher than the 22 countries that get iPad2 first. Infact it’s top 3 in the world. It’s stupid for Apple to not launch iPad2 in Singapore on the same day as US and Australia…why Australia get it on day 1 when so few of them even want an iPad? There are certainly more demand for iPad in China than in Australia.

  20. strong israeli association lol. if you speak about stolen things -so put on Romanian music:) lol. why video from fake apple store in china going with Romanian music?

  21. I’m a Dane who just are nosing, following a link from a Danish Newspaper (JP) site – re: fake Apple retail store, – so I’m also an internet tourist, which found your blog interesting, because I previously had been working many years with Chinese manufactures and have meet quite many examples of shanzhai goods, both “read made” on streets and shops but also seen productions even in large factories..

  22. It’s quite phenomenal how Apple have done such fantastic job of brainwashing its customers, that someone is prepared to do a video expose of a fake store.
    Quite frankly, who cares if they had a fake store!
    Actually I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Apple knew of these stores, and they actually sell real apple products – it’s far easier than jumping through the many hoops they probably normally have to, in order to sell many, many more units

  23. Before it closes down, can you see how much an Ipad 2 costs, if its much cheaper and works ok can I have 5 of them. I will use 2 as chopping boards

  24. The government has shut down two of the stores in Kunming according to the following Xinhua report:


    Government officials are waiting on Apple for guidance on whether they should shut down three others (although one of them has reportedly applying to Apple for authorisation). As Xinhua notes, despite China being a “key market” for Apple, there are only four authorised stores in the country, versus 236 in the US.

  25. The Chinese are counting on the fact that the shear number of their population, one that does not respect intellectual rights, would discourage or, at least made it impossible, for the property owners to go after them.

    How to fight IPR problems in China: DON’T DO BUSINESS IN CHINA.

  26. Whoa! Although fake Apple stores are now closed in China, you cannot still say if Apple products sold to other countries are authentic. Manufacturers of shanzhai Apple products may be everywhere now.

  27. I’d like to know what the prices were for the products at the fake stores.
    Were they selling for normal retail or at a large discount?
    Buying fake/cheap is one thing but paying full retail and getting a fake and presumably substandard product is the real consumer theft.

  28. Wow, bird! This is incredible. So the employee said that there’s no law in the country to decorate the business. He would’ve followed the company’s architectural standards. Who set up the fraudulent enterprise over there in the first place? The steps on the staircase were painted wrongly indeed. Besides, China’s notoriously called the fake goods capital of the world since it doesn’t abide by int’l company rules anyway, especially those DVD’s & clothing accessories. Blecch!

  29. I’m posting this to Twitter for anyone who may have missed it. Having spent time in security packaging – my company did the packaging for Apple – I’ve heard of counterfeit stores but never seen actual photos, so thank you for an up close view of the counterfeit trade in China. ~ M

  30. I applaud your taking time and commitment to honesty and integrity. I am appalled, however, at how many people think that it is okay for the Chinese to steal and use the Apple name, and I am sure that the products they sell are not real. It seems that many people, without morals, or values, think it is okay to steal from the rich, or from westerners, as though Americans are somehow responsible for the world and everyone can steal.

    This is disappointing, because honesty is an important value, and yet many teach their children that it is okay to steal, or cheat on a test, if it will help them out with their careers. And it is not just children, adults working and studying in the medical fields and at Harvard and other great US universities are cheating on a regular basis, in order to pass tests which will help them become certified techs, or medical doctors.

    I am also surprised at how many people claim to be spiritual, or religious, and yet lie and cheat all the time. You cannot be spiritual if you are stealing and taking what is not yours, and lying all the time.

    I have travelled extensively in INdia and southern Asia and there are many in the world (especially in Malaysia) where anti-American sentiment is very strong, and they use this anger to justify their illegal film and software stores. Even the Malay President said that it was okay for Malaysians to pirate American films and software! And this is a Muslim man who pretends to be a religious man! When smaller street shops appear, however, the government raids those on a regular basis, simply because the little man is again at risk of being victimized by the government. But when it comes to fancy stores in malls, then the government not only turns away, but encourages the behaviour.

    When US film industry criticized the government, the Malay government adjusted his remarks to say that adults shouldn’t sell pirated software, but that students should still “be allowed to purchase the pirated? In the same way, Chinese anti-Japanese fervour sends them rioting in the streets, attacking Japanese stores in China, burning Japanese cars, and the police sit idly by. (August 20, 2012 CNN World News)

    So, this got me to thinking that maybe my new Mac Mini that I bought in Montreal at a Genius Store might be a fake! After all, China exports millions of fake products, and because Apple products are made in China how are we to tell what is genuine or not?

    When I purchased a Mac Mini computer in a Montreal store, I asked them to install extra RAM, and waitied. They came back in 20 mins. and told me the Mac Mini was a lemon, and they would need extra time to install RAM in a new computer.

    I know Macs well, and I’ve been using Macs since 1986 when I was a sales person in Quebec city, selling a midi software product. So when I purchased my computer, I found it strange to be back in the store, asking about problems, less than six months after my purchase.

    They didn’t fix my problem, and though I should have insisted they replace it, I didnt. I went back 3 times for same px, and was never resolved.

    5 months after my warranty expired, I was back in the Store asking why I couldn’t burn DVDs. And then the staff told me my optical drive was dead and needed to be replaced.

    Now, I cannot get onto the computer at all, and will have to bring it in to the Store and ask why I cannot use the computer at all. This got me thinking, again, that maybe my Mac Mini is a fake Apple product. Again, they are made in China so whose to say Apple, or someone who works in one or some of their stores, isnt selling fake Apple products?

    And I say this because I have never seen so many problems wtih Macs as I have in the past three years. Exploding batteries, non-functioning track pads, etc. Years ago, you could buy a Mac and fix issues with software, an update, etc., now, you go into the Store, and they don’t even look at it, they tell you the optical drive is dead, and it will cost you $160 to have it fixed!!

    Thanks for sharing your photos and briefing us all. We have to be careful that what we are buying are legit.

  31. I was in Bangkok,in January 2013.
    I went to a local market,which was selling counterfeit Samsung Galaxy 3`s and had the oppertunity to compare the copy with my genuine galaxy 3. I could`nt tell the difference,except with the price. I`d paid £450 in London for mine,whilst the copies were on sale for 1,500 Baht (about £30).
    A friend of mine bought one of the copies and apart from the fact,it did`nt have Wifi,there was no difference.
    The market stall-holder admitted they came from China and was a `Genuine Copy`.
    OK,you dont get the `back-up`of owning a genuine Samsung,but when the price is 15 times cheaper,who cares….it breaks down,you go buy another!

  32. So I was curious, are the products on sale fake too? Fake or not what are their prices like, same as a real Apple store or cheaper? And what would a fake iPad be like, would it have the same hardware? And would it have the same software, or would it be running on some cheap fake OS?

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