Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs and the New Apple Store in Hong Kong

By now, you're likely aware of the death of Steve Jobs.  Many fascinating insights on Steve Jobs's life have already been shared online.  This paragraph from an article on Wired by Steven Levy particularly caught my attention:
Jobs usually had little interest in public self-analysis, but every so often he’d drop a clue to what made him tick. Once he recalled for me some of the long summers of his youth. I’m a big believer in boredom,” he told me. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, he explained, and “out of curiosity comes everything.” The man who popularized personal computers and smartphones — machines that would draw our attention like a flame attracts gnats — worried about the future of boredom. “All the [technology] stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too.”
Like elsewhere in the world, there has been some strong reaction in China to Steve Jobs's death.  Josh Chin and and Owen Fletcher on The Wall Street Journal's "China Real Time Report" capture some of the online reaction.  Laurie Burkitt, also for China Real Time Report, highlights the reaction outside an Apple retail store in Bejing as does C. Custer for Penn Olson with a video.  CNN's "News Stream" describes the similar reaction at an Apple store in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong store is notable since it is Hong Kong's first and opened very recently.  I was able to stop by a couple of weeks ago on its second day of operation and found both floors to be packed with people that weekend:

Half of first floor of Hong Kong's first Apple Store the day after its grand opening

This called to mind the opening of Best Buy's first store in China.  At the time I was able to chat with a Best Buy "Expat-Manager" who planned to work in Shanghai at least until the store's operations were stable.  He excitedly said that he was amazed by the number of people in the store and couldn't imagine a better start.  My first thought was that especially in China crowds don't necessarily equate sales.  More telling to me than the crowds was the lack of activity at the checkout counters.  Now, there are no Best Buy stores in China (they still own a local chain of stores, though).

However, Apple's stores in China have been doing quite well in terms of sales and during my brief visit to the HK store there were numerous instances of actual purchases:

At the Hong Kong Apple Store checkout counter

One of the most impressive aspects of Apple is the connection many people feel with its products and its brand.  For example, in Hong Kong I saw numerous people having their photos taken in front of the store:

Or on the famous staircase:

I think the Apple employee is trying to tell them that taking photos on the stairs creates a bit of a traffic jam.

Or on the 2nd floor in front of the Apple logo:

When I stopped by again two days later the crowds were smaller (it was a weekday) but there were still plenty of people taking photos:

The scenes were particularly striking to me since during a visit several months ago to the Apple Store in Shanghai I was told I could not take photos inside.  However, not only were numerous customers taking photos in the Hong Kong store but Apple employees were sometimes assisting.

I spoke to two Apple employees from the US who were temporarily working in Hong Kong.  They couldn't comment on the Shanghai store but they said that at least in Hong Kong and the US they would allow people to take photos for personal purposes (they also said I could use them as long as my blog wasn't for profit).  When asked to reflect on their Hong Kong experience (so far) they said that the behavior of the customers, including the photo taking, was similar to what they've seen in the US and the main difference was that everything was on a much larger scale in Hong Kong.

I think the taking of photos at Apple Stores isn't only significant for what it says about the incredible image Apple has created for itself.  It also highlights a somewhat hidden value of the stores.  Not only do they offer a chance for Apple to directly sell its products in an environment of their choosing, but they provide a real-world location for people to connect with Apple in a very direct fashion.

Now, in what is a sad moment for many it also serves as a place for some to pay their respects to Steve Jobs.  And just like people wanting to photograph themselves in the Apple Store, I think it says much about what Jobs helped create for both Apple and its customers.


  1. Yea, I figure this HK store won't suffer for sales...its perhaps the cheapest (legit) place in the world to score these Apple devices.
    Its giving me another good reason to head over there (really wanting to get a 4S iphone after recent impressions!)
    Thx for that Wired link btw, those are some interesting anecdotes I hadn't heard before.

  2. Yes, when I bought a Mac in HK the money I saved from not buying it in Shanghai more than paid for a roundtrip ticket from Shanghai to Taipei with a stopover in HK.