The iPhone 4S has been popular worldwide, selling out quickly in international markets. On January 13th, it was to be available for purchase in China at Beijing’s two official Apple stores in Sanlitun and Xidan. However China’s Apple stores have faced the problem of scalpers in the past, buying all the devices’ stock and selling them to the public at a higher price. Last Friday was no exception to the scalper problem, which caused a near riot at the Sanlitun store, causing the company to halt sales of the iPhone 4S until further notice.
As soon as scalpers got wind of the release date of January 13th, they had already sent out flyers in job markets in several Chinese cities to line up in front of the Apple stores. It was reported that the hired buyers needed to be present at the Apple stores at 6PM on the day before and wait until 8AM the next day. Once they had their hands on the phone, they could earn 200 RMB in commission from the scalpers. The hired buyers were even given uniformed hats or gloves by the organizers to identify and keep track of them.
Sure enough, the migrant workers hired by the scalpers showed up at earliest around 6PM the night before the 4S became available, but tension rose between the workers hired by rival gangs of scalpers and conflict had already erupted. To prevent the violence from escalating, the Beijing Apple Sanlitun store declared, just before they opened the store in the morning, that they would no longer be selling the iPhone 4S. This angered the large crowd who had been waiting overnight, and even resulted in one scalper throwing eggs at the store.
Many of the scalpers and customers lingered around the store hoping it would open. At around 8 30AM, the police were called in to maintain order and dispersed the crowd. Apple China later made an official announcement at 12:10PM that day declaring the iPhone in all Beijing and Shanghai stores suspend iPhone 4S sales. They sent out an official apology statement saying the product had been sold out in all the China Apple stores. They also stated that “due to the large crowd at the Sanlitun store, and to ensure our customers and employees’ safety, we are sorry that the Sanlitun store could no longer operate business”.