Staff members outnumber customers at an Apple Inc store in Beijing's Wangfujing shopping district on Friday as the company's iPhone 5 smartphone debuts. [Wang Jing / China Daily]
Few people lined up outside the company's stores in the capital to buy the new smartphone, in contrast to January when the arrival of the iPhone 4S sparked pandemonium.
The crowds, scalpers and poker-faced security guards who greeted the iPhone 4S had disappeared on Friday. Two iron fences stood in front of the Joy City Apple store to control crowds but no one was waiting in line.
Occasionally, cheerful shouts from staff could be heard from inside the store. A few people stopped and asked for sales details of the new phone, but went away without buying.
"I was told that I had to make a reservation online first," said Wang Lu, a woman in her 20s, near the Joy City shop. "Even if I apply right away, there is no chance I can pick up a phone today."
Apple imposed a reserve-and-pickup policy after the chaotic scenes in January involving scalpers at Beijing's Sanlitun store. Since then, customers have had to apply online and attend a drawing to secure a phone.
"The method has been quite effective," said a Beijing Public Security Bureau official on duty at the Joy City store for the iPhone 5 launch.
"I remember more than 1,000 people were waiting around the store for an iPhone 4S in January. But now it's totally different," the official said.
An iPhone 5 with 16 gigabytes of storage but without a telecom contract costs 5,288 yuan ($846). China Telecom Corp Ltd, the nation's smallest mobile operator, is selling the smartphone for 5,088 yuan on contract to attract buyers.
Analysts said that in addition to the new selling policy adopted by Apple, sufficient distribution channels and ample stocks had also resulted in the low-key welcome for the new arrival.
The device is the first Apple mobile phone product to be promoted by two telecom operators since its debut. China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd, together with China Telecom, have conducted nationwide marketing campaigns to win iPhone 5 clients.
The two operators have opened iPhone 5 sales through tens of thousands of outlets across the country. Meanwhile, chain stores selling electronic products, including Gome Electrical Appliances Holdings Ltd and D. Phone Group have been promoting iPhone 5 handsets online and in stores.
Xiang Ligang, a Beijing-based telecom industry insider, said: "If customers can buy the iPhone 5 anywhere, why bother to buy one at Apple flagship stores or from scalpers?"