China is the most populous nation on Earth, so anyone who can find a way to market successfully in that country stands to see huge economic gains. Indeed, we’ve already seen huge contributions to Apple’s bottom line from its sales in China, with massive demand for the iPhone and greater retail expansion to come. Demand for Apple’s products is now so high in China that fake Apple Stores are springing up in areas not yet serviced by official retail outlets.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Christina Larson points out that Apple hasn’t always been a sales powerhouse in China. It’s only relatively recently that Apple has had any brand identity in China at all; as early as three years ago, Chinese IT workers might regard a MacBook Pro as if it was a particularly small UFO. Today, Apple’s devices are permeating the “high end” of Chinese society due largely to Apple’s products being marketed as a luxury good in the country.
Larson points out that Apple still markets itself as an underdog in the US and other markets (still echoing the “computer for the rest of us” sentiment from the 1980s), but in China the company is instead positioned alongside the likes of Armani, BMW, and Versace. This “luxury” branding goes right alongside a new prosperity among China’s elite, and even more than in other parts of the world, Apple products are seen as status symbols in China.
There’s a darker side to all of this, of course; the bulk of Larson’s article describes the often deplorable conditions in Chinese factories. But like many articles on the subject, it conflates and confuses Foxconn with Apple and tries to place the blame for working conditions squarely on Apple despite Foxconn’s lengthy list of big-name tech clients. We’ve critiqued this approach to the subject before, and there’s no need to rehash it again. Suffice it to say that Apple is well aware of these issues and is trying to hold its suppliers accountable — a task that’s nowhere near as simple as some commentators would have the public believe.
Apple’s growth in China is still only in its infancy; the first brick-and-mortar stores opened in 2008, and Apple’s online Chinese store has been operating for less than a year. With China’s economic future looking far more robust than many other markets, the country is likely to contribute a great deal to Apple’s fiscal success from now on.