'Bourgeoise' iPhone rules

Updated: 2013-10-04 12:15

By Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily)

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One minute and two bucks is all it takes to turn an old iPhone 5 into a lookalike of the much-in-demand new gold iPhone 5S.

The high demand and low supply of the gold iPhone 5S has given many Chinese vendors a chance to make a killing. Currently, dozens of online stores on Taobao and Tmall - the country's two major online shopping platforms - are selling gold-colored stickers priced from $2.

About 1,500 stickers were sold within a month in a store on Tmall called Da Qin, where most customers gave a positive review. The stickers are also available in silver and space grey, but gold is by far the color of choice.

Zhang He, a Beijing native who just bought a gold sticker, said people don't take the sticker that seriously. "No one actually thinks a sticker can bring you an 800-buck iPhone," she said. "After all, it can't give you any of the new features the 5S has.

"It's just for fun, like showing my friend my 'gold iPhone' at a party and becoming a bourgeoise (the Chinese are starting to use the term to describe the gold color)."

Apple's gold-colored iPhone 5S has gotten an overwhelming response in the Chinese market. It has been in short supply since it first went on sale, pushing the price up to around 10,000 yuan ($1,634) in the grey market. At some Apple stores in China, people line up to try the gold iPhones.

On Apple's official Hong Kong website, the 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB iPhone 5S in space grey and silver remain available for reservation with shipments expected in October. All three models of "local tyrant" gold iPhone 5S are currently unavailable.

"Chinese consumers favor gold - whether it's real gold or gold-colored - because it symbolizes prosperity and the elite class," said Jae-hee Jung, an associate professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware. "From cultural heritages to simple packaging materials, I have seen nothing but golden objects and gold-colored decorations alongside red in China."

Jung said because consumers associate gold with luxury, luxury goods (jewelry, watches or fashion) adorned in gold will always be in great demand in China's luxury market.

Apple sold 9 million new iPhones in the first three days of its release. Although Apple didn't release specific sales figures for each model of the new phone, according a report in the Wall Street Journal, Apple is asking its suppliers to increase production of the gold model by a third to meet demand.

"The strong Apple brand name and the econ-system built around it have clearly carried the rather incremental product forward," said John Zhang, a marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "The gold color in China is clearly a masterful move, even though it is a tiny detail."

Zhang said that what this shows is that even the biggest company can and should pay attention to the smallest details.

"Gold color sells in China, but clearly Apple did not anticipate the immense popularity of the color," he said. "However, Apple should not feel bad about this, as it is always a crapshoot to anticipate the color consumers prefer - as is repeatedly shown in the fashion business."


(China Daily USA 10/04/2013 page1)