Friday, January 13, 2012

Chaos at Beijing Apple store halts iPhone 4S sales

Riots broke out on Friday morning in Beijing with enraged shoppers battling with police and each other outside the capital's flagship Apple store. Hundreds of people had queued overnight in freezing temperatures to get their hands on the latest iPhone 4S. But as dawn approached scuffles began between shoppers, staff and the police.

Trouble is said to have broken out after a staff member from the Apple store in the Sanlitun district of Beijing announced that the iPhone would not go on sale as planned and that the crowds of waiting customers should return home.

There were shouts of "Liars" as shoppers surged forward, some throwing eggs at the plate glass windows.

There are indications that Apple's decision not to open was due to safety concerns. While many people had queued in line overnight some shoppers said people were becoming impatient in the early hours and were pushing in line.

"I got in line around 11 pm, and beyond the line the plaza was chock full with people," said Huang Xiantong, 26, outside the store. "Around 5 am the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt," he said.

The exact chronology of events is not clear but it seems likely that the store decided to shut its doors because of the large numbers and fears of controlling the crowd.

Police stepped in as tempers frayed, and several shoppers were taken away. Some accused them of being too forceful in calming the crowds however. "The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling," one shopper said.

It is not the first time that trouble has broken out at the Sanlitun Apple store. When the iPad2 went on sale in May 2011 a brawl outside the store left several people injured as arguments over queue jumping descended into chaos [tvnewswatch].

After the latest incident Apple said it is to halt all retail sales of the latest iPhone in China for the time being, but said the phones would be available online, through its partner China Unicom or at official Apple resellers.

In a statement issued concerning the fracas, Apple said, "The demand for iPhone 4S has been incredible and our stores in China have already sold out.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, the iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being."

Apple's products are popular with the Chinese but that can create problems for both the company and its customers. Scalpers are common, buying up as many devices as possible and selling them on to those not willing to wait in line for a significantly higher price. However, arguments often break out between the scalpers and genuine shoppers. Scalpers often work in large groups and can deplete the available stock quickly leaving the genuine customer with little or no chance in getting a device at the retail price.

Apple have attempted to stop such practices by selling tickets limiting sales to only two devices per customer, but as scalpers simply use hired hands this can prove ineffective. At the Sanlitun store at least 1,000 people were hired by scalpers to stand in line for them at the Sanlitun store, the government-run news agency Xinhua reported.

At Apple's other store in Beijing's Xidan district there was no sign of trouble, but the entire stock of 2,000 iPhone 4S devices sold out before 9 am. Shanghai's only Apple store in the Pudong district also sold out early, disappointing many who had queued for hours. "I am very upset," said a retired 59-year-old trying to buy a phone for his daughter, "They said they will start selling iPhone 4S at 7 am, but said they had sold out all phones since I got here at 6 o'clock." [BBC / CNNIBT / Telegraph / WSJ / Video: YouTube / YouTube]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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