Anyone who's spent time shopping in China — or even Chinatown — has likely run into a vast spread of imitation Apple electronics, from almost-iPods to faux iPhones. But on a recent trip back to her home in China, one blogger discovered a much bolder — and much bigger — knockoff: an entire, painstakingly detailed fake Apple Store.
The 27-year-old blogger known as "BirdAbroad" stumbled onto a strange scene near her apartment in Kunming after returning from a few months abroad. Noting that a handful of major retail chains had popped up in her absence, she strolled into what appeared to be an Apple Store just like any other.
At first glance, the store boasted all the telltale trappings of the iconic retailer: "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."
But a few key details were off. The signs in the window featured Apple's glowing emblem, but also the words "Apple Store," in English. The paint job was shoddy, and spiraling stairs — resembling those in some of Apple's most prominent stores — appeared poorly constructed. For a company renowned for its uncompromising design aesthetic, these little faults were telling.
As if a fully-realized multilevel imitation Apple Store wasn't bizarre enough, the retail workers didn't express that anything was amiss when questioned — they appeared to genuinely believe they were employed by Apple. "I tried to imagine the training that they went to when they were hired, in which they were pitched some big speech about how they were working for this innovative, global company," BirdAbroad writes.
According to Apple's website, the company has four official retail locations in China, two in Beijing and two in Shanghai. Apple has recently ramped up efforts to open its shops around the globe, but these initial stores are only clustered around major urban hubs — they aren't in Kunming, the capitol of the southwest province of Yunnan, and China's 16th most populous city.
After discovering the first faux retailer, the blogger took a 10 minute cruise around the neighborhood only to find two more "Apple" stores, just like the first. "This was a total Apple store ripoff. A beautiful ripoff — a brilliant one — the best ripoff store we had ever seen." For a country awash in replica electronics and near-perfect knock-offs, that's saying a lot.
While it's unclear how (or if) Apple plans to handle China's apparent preponderance of imitation Apple retailers, the company is expanding its global grasp every day and watching profits soar sky-high. According to one Apple Store representative we spoke with, "I guess it's just a matter of getting to the point where people are walking into the right stores." That is, if they can tell the difference.