Apple apologises to consumers in China

iPhone-maker accused of ‘arrogance’ over its after-sales service

Visitors try the iPhone at an Apple Store in Beijing. The company has apologised for its after-sales service after Chinese internet users and state media  criticised the smartphone-maker  over its warranty policy. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters.

Visitors try the iPhone at an Apple Store in Beijing. The company has apologised for its after-sales service after Chinese internet users and state media criticised the smartphone-maker over its warranty policy. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters.

 

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has apologised to Chinese consumers and altered iPhone warranty policies in its second largest market after more than two weeks of condemnation in the state-run media of its after-sales service.

From China Central Television to the People's Daily newspaper, government-controlled media outlets bashed the world's largest technology corporation for its "arrogance," protesting among other things that its current one-year service warranty was far shorter than in other markets.

Apple, which initially dismissed those criticisms, promised to overhaul its consumer practices. Mr Cook has previously said the world's second-largest economy is a crucial market for the iPad-maker.

"We are aware that owing to insufficient external communication, some consider Apple's attitude to be arrogant, inattentive or indifferent to consumer feedback," Mr Cook said in a letter written in Chinese on the company's local website. "We express our sincere apologies for causing consumers any misgivings or misunderstanding."

The apology, unusual though not as rare as during his predecessor Steve Jobs'tenure, highlights the importance of the market for Apple.

The country is typically the brightest spot in Apple's quarterly financial statements. Revenue from Greater China - which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong - totalled $7.3 billion in its fiscal first quarter, up 60 per cent from a year ago.

Apple will begin detailing quarterly sales results from the region starting this month.

Mr Cook said in the lengthy letter that Apple has "much to learn about operating and communicating in China."

China has long been a prime market for Western corporations hoping to capitalise on its growing economic power and increasingly affluent middle-class. Still, companies face many pitfalls operating in the country.

Since it joined the World Trade Organisation and opened up its markets, many have run afoul of perplexing and sometimes arbitrary local regulations, fickle consumer sentiment - and occasionally capricious media coverage.

Regardless, many corporations view the country as prime expansion territory as growth slows in the developed world.

Apple is hardly the first Western brand-name to come under fire in the media for a variety of real or perceived missteps, or the first to alter its policies.

In 2012, CCTV spotlighted McDonald's and Carrefour SA for minor food safety violations. The companies were forced to apologise and their shares slumped as China's army of half a billion microbloggers unleashed their anger online.

Successful foreign brands like Wal-Mart Stores and Gucci have also come under fire for various product and labour issues. More recently, KFC parent Yum Inc issued a mea culpa in January for its handling of reports that chicken from some of its suppliers contained excess amounts of drugs and hormones. It subsequently outlined how it would improve food safety and quality control.

The targeting of Apple may be part of a policy that China has adopted to favor homegrown companies, said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Information Foundation.

"This does seem to be part of a growing strategy by the Chinese government to criticize and single out for unfair treatment leading foreign companies in China," he said.

Agencies