How Do You Sell Apple Stuff In China? Luxury, Luxury, Luxury

China is, on paper, a communist society. China is, in practice, a society of aspirational consumption, conspicuous consumerism, and a gaudy upper class. So how does Apple, with hippy roots, take control? By conforming, FP reports. iPhones are golden crowns.

Whereas the tech colossus is adored in the west for its innovation and design daring, Chinese shoppers, Foreign Policy's Christina Larson reports, are in it for the attention.

It's simple. Apple products are hard to come by in China — four (official) stores, almost four million square miles of territory. That's ratio conducive to scarcity — and with scarcity comes craving. Apple is in China, more so than in other developed countries, a luxury brand among the Guccis, Pradas and Louis Vuittons. Its name connotes wealth, status, and rarity. And in a class-hungry society like China, this means serious cash. It also means serious fanboys (and girls):

But like any luxury good, the high price and relative scarcity — and sense of exclusivity that creates — is part of its appeal. Before Apple products are released officially in China, a limited number are smuggled in through a vast grey market. Last summer, a few months before the iPad had even been released on the mainland, I noticed one young woman decked out in a shimmering silver miniskirt, red halter top, and fake eyelashes, and followed by a small camera crew, posing with her contraband (i.e., not-yet-released, not necessarily fake) iPad against the spiral staircase of Beijing's Guomao Starbucks. She was showing off, and recording for posterity, her lovely device, with languid poses that called to mind (or tried to) ads for luxury automobiles.

The FP's got a good point — but you have to wonder, to what extent is this a Chinese phenomenon? Class-obsession, fanboy consumerism, phone-as-status-symbol — sure sounds a lot like the country I'm sitting in right now. Let's not forget that the US is a country in which people sleep on the street to buy new Apple products, engage in multi-thousand word tirades defending them, and conspicuously garb them in leather cases. We're both rabidly consumerist societies — maybe China's just less ashamed of theirs. [FP]

Photo: ChinaFotoPress/Getty


Comments

    If they also come with golden earphones I am sold

    I think the difference between China and the Western world is that we in the west want to *use* the latest thing, whereas those in China (and to a certain extent, Japan) want to be *seen* to use the latest thing.

    In countries where everyone has similar skin tone, similar hair colour and similar background, anything to break you out of the pack and elevate you above it is A Good Thing. There's plenty of jokes and sayings in Japan about how image is important - there's even stories of people who will regularly go without eating to afford the latest fashion/phone/car/whatever. This is probably why alternative culture is becoming more popular there too.

      No i'm pretty sure Westerners want to be *seen* to use the latest thing. Lets face it, if they sold the exact same phone with the exact same features that wasn't an apple, the 'fashion focused' will still always get the apple.

      There's no reason a leather bag needs to cost $10k upwards (does the cow have his own servant and plastic surgeon?). We all know it's for the name, there's no use hiding it.

      There's no specific racial thing about conspicuous consumption. Everyone does it, most of these nouveau riche Chinese are simply new to money so they're not so used to how gaudy and kitschy this type of spending looks.

    To expand on what Scott's saying, unlike Asian (and other) monocultures, the relatively multicultural English-speaking world is founded on the advantages of different approaches and attitudes. So we appreciate and seek out the new and novel but doing so, and finding the new and novel is in itself a pretty ordinary, mundane fact of life.

    It seems to me that this is a relatively new thing in monocultural societies and it may take a few generations for them to have enough internal variation for novelty to be an expectation.

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