Monday, April 2, 2012

When is a Fake Apple Store Fake?

[UPDATE at end]

Reader Justaguy left the following comment on my post about the large number of "fake" Apple stores in China: "More of the Same: "Fake" Apple Stores in Zhuhai, China":
How are these fake Apple stores? In order to be fake, they'd have to be presenting themselves as real Apple Stores - are they? Chinese stores use brands in their signs in ways that US stores do not. Whenever I've spoken to someone in a store with such a sign, they've never made any pretense to be in any way affiliated with Apple or whatever brand they have on their sign. They put it there to advertise what they're selling. While that might be an illegal use of a trademark (I'm no expert in Chinese IPR law, so I have no idea), or use of Apple's logo in a way that Apple doesn't approve of, its very different than a store misleadingly presenting itself as a real Apple store.
I considered these issues while writing the earlier posts and appreciate the opportunity to address them. Indeed, stores can apply the "Apple spirit" to a variety of degrees. At what stage does a store deserve being labeled as a "fake Apple store"? For example, take this store in Zhuhai with a very large Apple logo on its storefront:

The store is dedicated to Apple products:

store in Zhuhai, China selling Apple products

checkout counter of store in Zhuhai selling Apple products

And its business card prominently describes itself as "Apple" and the store name "创实数码连锁" (it also appears to go by the name "Choicy"):

business card with the Apple logo, the word Apple, the store's Chinese name, and a website address

Additionally, the store currently promotes itself with a remarkably familiar-looking website at (catch it while you can (added note: for comparison, Apple's official Chinese website is here)):

screenshot of a webpage in Chinese that looks almost identical to the official Apple chinese website
The copyright is brilliant.

While I doubt the employees think they are working for Apple, I would not be surprised if they believe the store is authorized to sell Apple products (especially since their shirt sleeves said "Authorized Reseller"). As far as I know it is not.

So, is it fair to call this a "fake Apple store"?

My short answer is that I think it is fair but I really do not care what you call it. I think what matters is that there appear to be many examples of Apple's products being sold without authorization and of Apples logos being used improperly. As in many cases, there can be fuzziness in what deserves to be labeled as "fake". Hence, I have often used quotations marks around the word when I used it. Furthermore, one can distinguish between "Apple store" and "Apple Store". I have tried to be careful in my use of those terms. In my usage (and the usage of many others I have seen) the former simply refers to a store selling Apple products while the latter refers to the copyrighted stores officially run by Apple which can use Apple patented store designs such as the glass staircase. Although none of the stores I have shared are as grand as the notorious store in Kunming described by BirdAbroad, it seems reasonable (especially for convenience) to call the offending stores "'fake' Apple stores". In most (if not all) cases though, I would refrain from labeling them "fake Apple Stores".

Finally, regarding Justaguy's comment "Chinese stores use brands in their signs in ways that US stores do not." I will simply say that many clothing stores, banks, restaurants, etc. use storefront signs in a manner consistent with what is found in many other countries. I could cite numerous examples, but perhaps two are particularly pertinent. First, here is an authorized store in Zhuhai for Meizu, a Chinese brand of mobile phones:

Meizu store in Zhuhai China

Second, here is the only store in Zhuhai listed as authorized on Apple's website:

authorized Apple retailer Garyin in China

Although I would agree that many mobile phone stores use brands in their signs in a manner that U.S. stores would not, many businesses in China do indeed place a proper identification for the store on the storefront sign. That being said, I would be interested to see the results of a carefully designed research study examining how "fake" signs are perceived by Chinese consumers.

But that is another story.

Added note: Yes, the title of this post was deliberate and I realize it could invite a variety of constructive comments. Feel free to send them if you simply desire to add to my amusement.

UPDATE: For more about "fake" Apple stores in China see: "More 'Fake' Apple Stores In China: Does Apple Care?"

Or tired of seeing "fake" stores? Then maybe the Chinese mobile phone with an apple logo in this post will interest you: "Insights and Headaches for Apple: The iPncne in China".

1 comment:

  1. I have a better question. In a supposedly "market" society (whether China or the U.S.), why should any company be able to control who can and who can't sell its products? I know why they *want* this to be the case but...perhaps that is also another story.