* Police, security brawl with disappointed shoppers
* Phones remain available online and at resellers
* Scalpers hired thousands of stand-ins to wait in
By Terril Yue Jones and Lucy Hornby
BEIJING, Jan 13 Enraged Chinese shoppers
pelted Apple Inc's flagship Beijing store with eggs and
shoving matches broke out with police on Friday when customers
were told the store would not begin sales of the iPhone 4S as
Apple said later after the fracas at its store in Beijing's
trendy Sanlitun district that it would 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.
Sales at Apple's other store in Beijing and three in
Shanghai went more smoothly, with stocks quickly selling out.
An announcer with a bullhorn told the Sanlitun store crowd
around 7 a.m., before sunrise, that the phones would not go on
sale as planned and that they should leave. As the crowd became
more unruly, scuffles broke out between security staff
and shoppers, many of whom had waited overnight in freezing
Police moved in and dragged some people away. Photos
appeared on the Chinese blogosphere of a man who had brought raw
eggs in a plastic bag, handing them out before people heaved
them at the store's tall glass windows.
"We're suffering from cold and hunger," a man in his 20s
shouted to Reuters Television. "They said they're not going to
sell to us. Why? Why?"
"I got in line around 11 p.m., and beyond the line, the
plaza was chock full with people," said Huang Xiantong, 26, from
northeastern Liaoning province.
"Around 5 a.m. the crowds in the plaza broke through and the
line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people
were hurt. The police just started hitting people. They were
Police ordered the closure of the store, according to a
source close to the situation.
Apple's latest iPhone, with features including responding to
commands with its own voice, was introduced in China and 21
other countries on Friday. Prices ranged from 4,988 to 6,788
yuan ($792 to $1,077).
Apple, in a statement, said its other stores had 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," it said.
The snafu lit up China's microblog community. One
commentator likened the queues to this month's annual Spring
(New Year) Festival rush to buy train tickets home.
"If people had to make a choice, I think iPhone fans would
rather buy an iPhone 4S than go home," said the blogger, using
the online name Zhang Xinchun Daqi.
LEGIONS OF FANS AND SCALPERS
Apple products are wildly popular with Chinese eager to
acquire the latest technology first. Many customers in Beijing
appeared to be scalpers hoping to scoop up iPhones for resale.
Scalpers are a common sight outside Apple's stores in China,
selling genuine Apple products, usually iPhones, at a markup for
customers unwilling to queue or faced with stores out of stock.
At the Sanlitun store, people who appeared to be working on
behalf of scalpers were queueing in groups of 50, wearing the
same hats or gloves, said Huang, the Liaoning shopper. "The
police talked with their leaders," he said.
Scalpers who ran advertisements online hired thousands of
people to stand in line at the Apple stores, offering 100 yuan
($16) per person plus dinner, the Global Times reported.
One organiser surnamed Wei, contacted by the Global Times
posing as a job seeker, said he would also pay a 20 percent
commission for every additional person brought along.
One scalper in his 40s outside Beijing's other store in the
busy Xidan shopping district, who gave his name as Deng, said he
was seeking a markup of 1,000 yuan ($160).
"I think 1,000 is profit enough. If I ask more, people won't
pay," said Deng, who had queued since 5 p.m. on Thursday. "But
actually we're performing a service for people who don't want to
wait in the cold. People with money don't care if it costs a
The Xidan store had sold out its entire stock of 2,000 by 9
a.m., one shopper was told.
Apple executives were unavailable to comment on sales, but
the company typically does not disclose such figures.
Official resellers continued to sell the new phone. One next
to the Xidan store ran out by early afternoon.
Shoppers had mostly left the Sanlitun store by 10 a.m. It
remained closed later, ringed by about 50 police at lunchtime.
At one of Shanghai's three Apple stores, Jin Long, 24, said
he had been in line since 2 p.m. on Thursday with the aim of
securing a ticket to allow him to buy a new iPhone.
"After waiting all night and getting the card, my relative
didn't bring cash for the transaction and security guards and
store workers tore up our tickets," he told Reuters TV.
"With this kind of attitude, who wants to buy their
machines in the future?"