Chinese launch of new iPhone 8s proves a damp squib – but retailers hopeful the arrival of the ‘X’ will generate more interest

Apple Stores conspicuously quiet across China, as customers get their hands on the US giant’s latest smartphones

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 5:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 September, 2017, 7:01pm

Apple’s new smartphones were given the cold shoulder by consumers in China on Friday, as they went on sale for the first time at official stores.

But some general retailers said they were sure the new iPhone 8, and iPhone 8 Plus – which start at 5,888 yuan (US$892) in the mainland – will quickly become available at lower prices than their official launch prices when they finally start to hit other shelves across the country. The top range iPhone X will become available next month, at 8,388 yuan (US$1,272). The official US prices will be US$699 and US$999.

Unlike previous new iPhone launches, when Apple Stores were normally swarmed with fanatic buyers but also scalpers, who would then sell them immediately for profit, there was relative calm at its key sites in China.

At the only official store in Shenzhen, for instance, less than a dozen people were queuing outside before the store opened to wait to pick up their new phones, despite the company putting up several rows of queuing railings outside and round the corner, to cope with what was clearly expected to be a potential scrum of buyers.

Only those who placed orders and made successful reservations online last week were able to collect an iPhone 8 handset in an Apple store on Friday, according to an Apple staff, adding that all other new products including the new Apple Watch, could be bought in the store right away.

During a half-hour stay at the Apple store, there wasn’t a scalper to be seen outside the shop.

In stores in Huaqiangbei, a major electronics manufacturing hub in a suburb of Shenzhen, it was also quiet, again in sharp contract to previous iPhone launch days, when its stores bustled with scalpers offering the latest models as they became available.

“We have cheaper phones available than Apple; no one wants to buy an iPhone 8 or a plus,” said Wang Xiao, a saleswoman in one of the area’s main malls.

“It would be impossible to make a profit from trading an iPhone 8 here.”

Hu Jun, a salesman at a store next door to Wang’s, agreed: “iPhones are not as popular as before. I don’t see any reason to buy an iPhone 8 or a plus, as they are no different from the iPhone 7 in appearance – but the iPhone X should be much more popular.”

At the other end of the country in Beijing, customers at the Apple Store in the capital’s popular upscale shopping area Sanlitun were also thin in the ground on launch day.

Some old iPhone recyclers were trying to sell their goods outside, while a small crowd of customers were seated near the shop, waiting quietly for opening time.

Many customers in the store were trying to the test the new models instead of committing to buy.

One 22-year-old university graduate, Pei Tao, said he came to check out the iPhone 8 but hadn’t decided which of the three new models to go for.

Cat Fu, a smartphone dealer in Shenzhen, expects sales prospects of the iPhone 8 to be poor as people see no real improvements from the previous iPhone 7 series and are more likely to hold out for the upcoming iPhone X, which features a larger display and no home button in its front.

“I would earn less than 100 yuan selling an iPhone 8 today,” said Fu, who added she had bought her handsets mainly from Hong Kong, where retail prices of iPhones are 15-20 per cent cheaper than mainland China.

Apple says it has prepared ample stocks to cope with expected demand for the iPhone 8 and 8 Pluses and it will take less than two weeks for phones to be delivered to buyers, with free shipping, if orders are placed online.