Chaos Over Apple’s iPhone 4S Launch in Beijing

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Scalpers and touts create trouble as prestige handset is in limited supply

Jan. 13 – There have been chaotic scenes and disturbances outside Apple’s flagship store in Beijing’s Sanlitun today after the store decided to postpone sales of the new iPhone 4S this morning. The model was due to have been available at the store from 7 a.m., with many people waiting overnight in temperatures that dropped to negative 9 degrees Celsius. By 7:15am, the store had still not opened, with staff stating shortly afterwards the phone would not be on sale. Eggs were thrown at the store, scuffles have been reported to have broken out, and the police have had to cordon off the area.

Apple’s Beijing store has been targeted by professional scalpers whose intent has been to buy up all available stocks and then resell at a profit. It is understood that the decision not to proceed with sales of the iPhone 4S at the Sanlitun store has to do with trying to avoid this.

At other Apple outlets across the country, the introduction proceeded more normally. Apple’s store in Xidan District provided 1,000 tickets redeemable against the purchase of a maximum two iPhone 4S handsets each, while in Shanghai, Apple’s Pudong store opened an hour early to accommodate the waiting crowds before selling out of the phones almost instantly.

Deliberately hoarding valuable items to resell at a quick profit has a long history in China, although the practice when it comes to daily necessities such as certain food items has long been banned by the Communist Party, and has on occasion in the past lead to the death penalty. Many migrant workers have apparently been recruited by scalpers and touts to wait in line to obtain allocations of the iPhone 4S, and scuffles have been breaking out in queues outside the Sanlitun store all week as genuine purchasers become wise to those posing as buyers. Apple’s stores in China generate the highest traffic and highest revenue of any Apple stores across the world, according to the company’s Chief Financial Officer Peter Oppenheimer.

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