Consumers Wake up. Thanks, Apple?

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By: Marina Natanova

In late January Apple conducted a big press-conference in Moscow, dedicated to great news: the company finally opens an official representation in Russia (till now Apple operated through their official distributor Apple IMC). Local Apple fans welcomed the decision to finally enter the market with elation, which however lasted only till the press-conference materials were published.

To sum up:

1.      Services, unavailable in Russia (Apple Store and iTunes Store) will remain unavailable.

2.      New applications for iPod Touch ($20 in iTunes Store) won’t be available too, because they are available only via iTunes Store. To get them, consumers were offered to buy new iPod Touch modifications.

3.      MacBook Air will appear in stores pretty soon, but without Cyrillic keyboard layout. More than that – it will cost at least $1,000 more than in the US.

High price for Apple products is actually not a huge news – 16Gb iPod Touch costs here $710 (USA – $399, UK – $522, Western Europe – $535, Ukraine and India – $599). Even shipping, customs tariffs and VAT can’t explain such prices. I.e. consumers initially know that they buy a) a product 3 times more expensive than Chinese or Korean players flooding the local market; b) they should also overpay 70% versus original price; and c) they won’t get any customer support. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it…

Now if you expect that I have an idea why Apple treats Russian consumers in this way – sorry, I don’t. It looks totally illogical. In spite of slow and reactive marketing activities of Apple IMC, their products have earned their stable and growing market niche. Consumers turned into evangelists without any special efforts from their side. But why a company, known for its customer-oriented marketing, would pursue such disapointing policy in fastest growing IT markets? (FYI: we aren’t the only country with such situation, see this post). Does Apple want its products to remain "brands for chosen, most loyal ones"? Or did they simply overlook the fact that it’s easier here to have a crack of software than to buy it officially (iPhones, having firmware for limited list of mobile operators, are unlocked here by means of "engineering approach", read – soldering iron). Opening official Apple services in Russia would at least mean – less piracy.

Nevertheless, there’s still a good side in this story. Loyal Apple customers, represented by ru mac LJ community, conducted their own meeting discussing how they could influence the situation. They are about to apply to Russian consumer supervisory with an official claim about breach of customer protection law. They have also written an open letter to the Apple headquarters and even attracted attention of some western media. Looks like local customers finally started to learn how to get what’s theirs in a legal way. Thanks, Apple?