Apple alleged to fail its Chinese customers

Posted by Nick Farrell

Apple has managed to avoid boiling in hot water in China after moves to promote a show exposing the way it discriminated against Chinese customers were marred by a Twitter promotion for the show.

The state run CCTV chanel ran its annual outing of corporate malpractice in a highly influential show watched by millions of Chinese people.

Unfortunately for Cupertino, this year the show focused on Apple. The show pointed out that  Chinese customers were not given the same post-sales service from Apple as it gave to users in the rest of the world.

It would appear that Apple China doesn't replace customers' iPhones when they request a new device due to a fault, but instead fixes only specific parts. This means that the firm doesn't have to reset the warranty period under local laws. Elsewhere in the world Apple hands over a new phone.

This apparent discrimination against Chinese users led many on social media to call for a boycott of the firm's products.

The report was damaging enough for Apple to issue a rare comment saying that it took customer concerns very seriously.

CEO Tim Cook sees China's economy as virgin expansion territory, and Apple singles out the region in every quarterly results report.

The show is widely seen as the kiss of death for Western companies in China.

Last year it singled out McDonald's and French hypermarket chain Carrefour SA for food safety violations.

Both were forced to apologise and their shares slumped as China's microbloggers unleashed their anger online.

Torsten Stocker, head of Greater China consumer practice at Monitor Deloitte, told Reuters that these TV exposes create the impression that you can't trust that brand.

Sure enough, the show stirred up a lot of anti-Apple bile.

Within an hour of the broadcast, Apple had been mentioned 50,000 times on popular web microblog Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

And that is where something strange happened. While most of the posts were negative there was a sudden backlash centred on what appears to have been a small number of celebrity tweets in favour of the show.

These were the usual Apple fan comments which mostly focused on attacking the show and the journalists in an ad hominem fashion. This is despite the show usually being seen as positive for Chinese consumers.

Apple fanboys seized on the story of a celebrity blogger called Peter Ho who posted the following message the next night, at around 8.20pm, in response to the news programme, commonly referred to as "315":

"#315isLive# Wow, Apple has so many tricks in its after-sales services. As an Apple fan, I'm hurt. You think this would be acceptable to Steve Jobs? Or to those young people who sold their kidneys [to buy iPads]? It's really true that big chains treat customers poorly. Post around 8:20."

The post looks like it was one of those paid ones and the celebrity forgot to remove the instructions for the PR.

To Apple fanboys and the whole of the rabidly pro Apple press this was proof that the whole story was a complete set up by CCTV to smear Apple.

Apple fans began to use a cut and paste post claiming that CCTV was trying to smear Apple and they should share it.

Over the weekend, some claimed that it was this story which had been picked up by every major Chinese news organisation and not the inconvenient truth that Apple has been fleecing its customers.

Curiously this will take the pressure off Apple and it can continue treating Chinese customers as they like without fear of a boycott. Nice one fans, you really know how to help yourselves. 

Many Apple components are put together in China. But factory workers are unlikely to be able to afford the phones they themselves put together.