Scalpers dial up trouble for iPhone release

Updated: 2012-01-10 08:21

By Wang Huazhong (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Conflicts among hundreds of scalpers raring to stock up on the new iPhone 4S are casting a shadow over the gadget's launch on the Chinese mainland on Friday.

Over the weekend, scalpers from two groups bickered and shoved each other when standing in line to purchase iPhone 4 at Apple's Sanlitun store, said witnesses.

Workers from two Apple stores in Beijing told China Daily the stores have not started online bookings for the iPhone 4S so far.

"More than 1,000 of us have gathered to buy all the available iPhone 4 this morning," said a scalper hawking the phone outside the Sanlitun store on Sunday.

"We'll come again on Friday for iPhone 4S. You'll have no hope of getting an iPhone 4 or 4S from the store, but only from us."

The scalpers are asking 4,450 yuan ($705) for an 8-gigabyte iPhone 4, and 5,450 yuan for a smuggled iPhone 4S. Apple sells an 8-gigabyte iPhone 4 on the mainland for 3,988 yuan.

An Apple employee at the Sanlitun store who declined to give her name told China Daily on Monday that the store was aware the scalpers may be planning to besiege the iPhone 4S launch, and the store has prepared for that.

Calls to the public relations office of Apple China went straight to voice mail.

Police of the Sanlitun police station refused China Daily's interview request.

An officer of the property management company of the Sanlitun Village shopping mall, where the store is located, said on Sunday they had not been informed about the weekend fracas outside of the Apple store.

But on Monday afternoon, staff members of the company dispersed the scalpers by sealing off part of the store's entrance.

Workers at the Sanlitun store and property management staff confirmed two groups of scalpers fought on Saturday afternoon and Sunday when jumping the line or stopping each other to pay to get an iPhone 4.

Since October 2010, Apple has ceased direct sales of iPhone 4 at its retail outlets in Beijing and Shanghai and is only accepting online orders or reservations and schedules pick-up at stores to curb rampant scalping.

But the registration system for reserve and pick-up has become "momentarily unavailable because of heavy traffic volume" in recent days, said Apple's website.

A scalper in his 30s outside the Sanlitun store boasted they had "hacked" Apple's reservation page. He described himself an "unofficial salesman" of Apple.

Defending the actions of scalpers that lead to consumers having to pay more, he said "it's not our fault but Apple's, because they put too few products in the mainland market."

This is not the first time scalpers have targeted Apple products.

Two men and two women suffered minor injuries outside the Sanlitun store during a clash between a worker and angry customers as Apple fans waited to buy iPhone 4 and the newly released iPad 2 in May 2011.

According to reports, the incident started when a worker confronted an alleged scalper for jumping the line. This led to a verbal conflict in which the alleged scalper was thrown against the corner of an outside wall, causing injuries to his face and wrist.