Sales of all iPhone models in China were suspended after a large and unruly crowd of customers disrupted the introduction of the iPhone 4S at a store in Beijing.
In anticipation of the launch, a huge crowd of people gathered outside the store in the Sanlitun area of the city and became impatient. According to reports, when the store announced that the sale would not go on as planned, people threw eggs at the building and later became entangled in a scuffle with police who were called in by store officials.
In a statement, Apple said it decided to postpone opening its Sanlitun store due to the large crowd, and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees. The company also said it will halt sale of all iPhones at its retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being.
One disappointed customer at Sanlitun told Reuters: I've been waiting here since yesterday afternoon, then this morning they say they won't sell. They broke customers' hearts.
Another customer said: “We’re suffering from cold and hunger. They said they’re not going to sell to us. Why? Why?”
Huang Xiantong, 26, from northeastern Liaoning province, complained to Reuters: “I got in line around 11 p.m., and beyond the line, the plaza was chock full with people. Around 5 a.m. the crowds in the plaza broke through and the line disappeared entirely. Everyone was fighting, several people were hurt. The police just started hitting people. They were just brawling.”
The decision by Apple was somewhat strange given that its other stores in China had opened without incident and reported robust sales of the new iPhone product.
However, Apple said customers in China could buy the phones either through its online store or at China Unicom and other authorized vendors.
China is key to Apple’s continued growth in the global Smartphone market.
Michael Bristow, a BBC correspondent in Beijing, described the bizarre affair: “The scene outside Apple's flagship store in Beijing resembled the aftermath of a major demonstration or a crime scene. Hundreds of people had waited outside the shop all night -- in temperatures well below freezing -- to buy the new iPhone 4S. When they realized they were not going to go on sale, those eager customers expressed their anger and disappointment.”
Bristow added: “The remains of eggs thrown at windows in the initial burst of anger were still smeared on hours later. The shop was cordoned off and closed at a time when there are usually dozens of people milling around inside. It was a reminder that Chinese shoppers love their consumer goods just as much as anyone else.”