Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Apple's Kowtow

The glowing Apple icon signals the store is at ifc Mall in Pudong, Shanghai
It took some time, but Apple finally gave in.

In a long, grovelling apology on Apple's Chinese website, chef executive Tim Cook apologized, in which he admitted the company had "much to learn about operating and communicating in China".

"We are aware that owing to insufficient external communication, some consider Apple's attitude to be arrogant, inattentive or indifferent to consumer feedback. We express our sincere apologies for causing consumers any misgivings or misunderstandings."

The campaign started on consumer rights day two weeks ago when CCTV had a TV special accusing companies like Apple and Volkswagen of treating Chinese consumers unfairly.

The show claimed Apple offered lower levels of service and charged for replacing back covers of fault iPhones, while in other countries it was done for free.

Then someone up above orchestrated other state media to join in on the chorus to drag Apple down, but the campaign backfired when Taiwanese actor Peter Ho apparently posted on Weibo what was supposed to be his own critical view about Apple, but at the end of the rant it said, "Publish around 8.20pm."

He tried to defend himself by saying his Weibo account was hijacked and he never wrote the message...

But back to the main point. A reporter from Fortune went through the warranty terms between China and the US and found that they were exactly the same.

"Although the language is different, I couldn't find any policy differences between them," reported Philip Elmer-DeWitt. "Both offer 14-day returns with full refunds. Both offer one-year warranties that either, at Apple's discretion, 1) repair the defective or refurbished product, 2) replace it with a new or refurbished product or 3) return the customer's money. Both guarantees replaced or repaired products for 90 days or the life of the original warranty, whichever is longer."

But what China really wanted was Cook's kowtow to potentially the biggest market in the world.

It wanted to show its citizens that China could make anyone -- even Apple -- beg for forgiveness even though it had technically done nothing wrong.

This is a subtle reminder to the mainland Chinese that their motherland is powerful and not a force to be reckoned with, even on the world stage.

But what about domestic companies?

Firms, particularly state-owned enterprises are the worst when it comes to customer satisfaction. These include telecom providers, banks, railways, and electricity and water suppliers.

On social media, users weren't afraid to make scathing remarks.

One wrote: "Everybody is eating cooking oil recycled from gutters. No problem! Everybody is drinking poisonous milk powder. No problem! We drink water filled with dead floating pigs. No problem! But when you change the back cover of iPhones for foreigners but not for us, that is not okay, that is far more serious."

Exactly. Get a grip, Beijing. There are far more important issues your citizens are more concerned about than warranties on Apple products.

And people are going to continue to buy Apple products anyway, so Chinese ones lose out anyway.

We hope this is the last we hear of China complaining about a fruit everyone loves.

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