We know that consumers in China love Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) products, and that Apple is famous for the lines that form outside its stores in advance of the launch of a new product. But things got a little out of hand earlier today in Beijing, as a mob of people waiting for Apple’s flagship store in the city to open began to get restless when the 7am opening was delayed; and then downright angry when Apple decided not to open the store at all.
Pelting the building with eggs, chasing away security guards, and fighting amongst themselves, eventually the riot police had to get called in to calm things down.
The mass of people, estimated to be in the thousands, gathered in the early hours of this morning — a freezing winter day in Beijing — to get their hands on the very first iPhone 4S devices to go on sale in the country.
According to reports in the Chinese tech blog M.I.C. Gadget, the crowd was a mix of ordinary consumers and groups of scalpers.
In China, as in some other countries like Russia, scalpers can be a formidable lot when retail of popular items is concerned.
Typically, they buy devices in bulk and then resell them for a premium, sometimes blatantly in front of the store itself. Apple’s solution to that was to limit purchases to two per buyer — except that scalpers in this case formed syndicates of 20-50 scalpers to buy them in bulk anyway. Reportedly, the going price for an iPhone 4S resold by a scalper was 5,588 Chinese yuan ($885); Apple’s price is RMB 4,988 ($791).
The M.I.C. Gadget report has it that when the flagship Beijing store did not open at the scheduled time of 7am, a security guard came out to notify people of the delay. That didn’t go down very well, and so when he came out again to cancel the opening altogether, the crowd lost it. The eggs came soon after, and the fighting came swiftly behind.
It seems that other Apple retail stores in Beijing and elsewhere fared much better. The crowds appear to have been the same mix of people — as you can see by the pictures of scalpers selling on iPhones below — but perhaps not as large, and therefore working more harmoniously.
Apple has released a statement in the wake of the event, which noted that stocks at its Chinese retail locations have already sold out. It also confirmed that it would not be selling the iPhone 4S in retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for now “to ensure the safety of our customers and employees.” It will, however, continue to sell them online, and resellers like China Unicom will also continue to sell them as long as stocks last:
“The demand for iPhone 4S has been incredible, and our stores in China have already sold out,” an Apple spokesperson told the media. “Unfortunately we were unable to open our store at Sanlitun due to the large crowd, and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, iPhone 4S will not available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being. Customers can still order iPhone 4S through the Apple Online Store, or buy at China Unicom and other authorized resellers.”
We have contacted Apple to ask if it could give a date for when it will start to sell the 4S in Beijing and Shanghai retail locations, and will update this post as we learn more. You can safely guess, however, that the next time Apple launches a new product in the country, things will be done a little differently.
Update: An Apple spokesperson contacted for this story declined to comment on when those retail stores will start to sell the iPhone 4S.