Angry customers and gangs of scalpers threw eggs at Apple Inc’s flagship store in Beijing yesterday after its opening for the China launch of the iPhone 4S was canceled because of concerns over the size of the crowd.
Apple reacted to the scuffle by postponing iPhone 4S sales in its Chinese stores to protect the safety of customers and employees. It said the model would still be sold online and through its local carrier.
Customers, including migrant workers hired by scalpers in teams of 20 to 30 to buy iPhones for resale at a markup to Chinese gadget fans, waited overnight in freezing weather at the Apple store in Beijing’s Sanlitun District.
The crowd erupted after the store failed to open on schedule at 7am. Some threw eggs and shouted at employees through the windows.
A person with a megaphone -announced the sale was canceled. Police ordered the crowd to leave and sealed off the area with yellow tape. Employees posted a sign saying the iPhone 4S was out of stock.
“We were unable to open our store at Sanlitun due to the large crowd, and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, iPhone will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being,” Apple spokeswoman Carolyn Wu said.
Other Apple stores in China opened yesterday and Wu said iPhone 4S models quickly sold out. She said the it would still be sold in China through Apple’s online store, its local carrier China Unicom Ltd and retailers that are authorized resellers.
Wu declined to comment on what Apple might know about scalpers buying iPhones for resale.
China is Apple’s fastest-growing market and “an area of enormous opportunity,” chief executive Tim Cook said in October.
Apple’s iPhones are hugely popular in China and stores are mobbed for the release of new products.
iPhones are manufactured in China by an Apple contractor, but new models are released in other countries first. That has helped to fuel a thriving “gray market” in China for telephones smuggled in from Hong Kong and other markets.
In May last year the Sanlitun store was closed for several hours after a scuffle between an employee and a customer during the release of the iPhone 4, the previous model in the series.
Customers began gathering outside the Sanlitun store on Thursday afternoon. People in the crowd said the number grew to as many as 2,000 overnight, but many left before dawn after word spread that the store opening would be canceled. There were about 350 people left when the protest erupted after 7am.