Friday, July 22, 2011

Fake Apple stores? Fake Apple stores.

Many months ago, I wrote a post (and a series of follow-up posts) about the "unintended consequences of globalization", focusing at times on the budding trade war/currency war with China over "unfair" trade practices. While the harsh political rhetoric toward China that dominated the headlines last fall may have subsided (to be replaced by harsh rhetoric surrounding debt ceilings--how quickly we move on), the underlying issues most certainly have not.

One of the issues with globalization that I did not write much about--but that is no less important--is the issue of counterfeiting. CNBC recently aired a long piece on the issue of counterfeit goods, estimating that nearly 7% of all global trade was comprised of counterfeit products. Simply put, when companies outsource their production overseas, they lose a certain amount of oversight and take a significant risk of losing their intellectual property rights--IP may be well protected here in the US, but it's the Wild West over in China.

For evidence of the Wild West, look no further than Kunming, China:
The Western news media is replete with pithy descriptions of the rapid changes taking place in China: China has the world’s fastest growing economy. China is undergoing remarkable and rapid change. This represents a unique moment for a society changing as quickly as China.
You probably read such things in the paper every day – but if you have never been to China, I’m not sure you know quite what this means on a mundane level. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, in the 2+ years that RP and I have been in our apartment, much of the area around us has been torn down, rebuilt, or gutted and renovated – in some cases, several times over...
So when we strolled down a street a few blocks from our house a couple weeks ago, I was only sort of surprised to see this new place, one that any American of my generation can probably recognize instantaneously:
It’s an Apple store!
Or is it?
RP and I went inside and poked around. They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks.
We proceeded to place a bet on whether or not this was a genuine Apple store or just the best ripoff we had ever seen – and to be sporting, I bet that it was real...
You have already guessed the punchline, of course: 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.
Apple never writes “Apple Store” on it’s signs – it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.
The name tags around the necks of the friendly salespeople didn’t actually have names on them – just an Apple logo and the anonymous designation “Staff”. And of course, Apple’s own website will tell you that they only have a few stores in Beijing and Shanghai, opened only recently; Apple famously opens new stores painstakingly, presumably to assure impeccable standards and lots of customer demand.
Is this store a copy of one of those in Beijing? A copy of a copy in another Chinese city? A copy of a copy of a copy?! While you’re pondering that, bear in mind: this is a near-perfect ripoff of a store selling products that were almost unknown when we first came to China. My white MacBook was likely to draw only blank stares or furrowed brows as I sat gnashing my teeth trying in vain to get a piece of Chinese software to run on it.
Wow. I've heard plenty about counterfeit goods (and, if we're being honest, even purchased some of them on street corners in Manhattan), but this is the first I've heard of an entire counterfeit store. That takes a whole new level of dedication, of research, and most importantly, of boldness. Check out some more of these pictures from the blog:

Crazy stuff.

Of course, like counterfeit goods, some counterfeit stores are better than others. The authors of the piece found several fake Apple Stores in their neighborhood, including this one with a careless typo:

It's hard to imagine that this is what Apple had in mind when it started shipping its production overseas, but this is one of the unseen costs of offshoring jobs (and, of course, yet another unintended consequence of globalization).

No word yet on whether the industrious (and morally relativist) Chinese have begun work on a ripoff of Manhattan's famous 59th Street Apple Store. Stay tuned...


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