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The spread of‘the Apple effect’

The recent apology by Apple’s Tim Cook for delivering poor customer service in China after the brand was publicly castigated by state media may have triggered the release of a hidden anger amongst Chinese consumers that foreign brands take their money without demonstrating customer care.

This doesn’t mean that consumers feel that the state is actually on their side, as social media comment indicates that the people think this is a case of those in glass houses throwing stones. But they are not happy never the less.

Those of us who live in China can see how international brands that are directed by senior executives thousands of miles away, often follow the processes and practices of their global masters, and completely ignore consumers, and in fact that’s not just a Chinese phenomenon. The weak service culture in China does nothing to help the situation because local staff are just able to shrug their shoulders and blame it on their foreign bosses, and often do.

The Apple effect also appears to have spilled over into the luxury sector, and the first casualty is Italian men’s brand Canali whose name was splashed over a newspaper in Shanghai after it delivered three made to measure items to a regular and loyal customer who had spent 90,000 RMB on them, only to find they didn’t fit. The brand is said to have claimed that the man in question was ‘an unusual’ shape and this is what had caused the problem! As a loyal customer, perhaps they should have known about his dimensional challenges from previous sales?

Of course in this case, the staff may have measured the customer inaccurately, or he put on, or lost weight since the measurement. But no matter what the cause, the brand appears to have taken a very arrogant attitude to the issue, and blamed it on anyone but itself. 30,000 RMB or more for a garment is expensive, and no matter what expectations of service the customer had, as a luxury brand Canali should have exceeded these.

The luxury bags of Prada also suffered the Apple effect last month, and resulted in demonstrations in front of their IFC store in Shanghai by customers who had purchased bags that they found had holes in when they got them home. They returned to the store and asked for a refund, only to be offered a replacement product. The most violet pre Apple effect case, was that of the owner of a Lamborghini who had it smashed to pieces in front of the dealership after they failed to deliver what he regarded as a good repair service for his car!

This is an issue that will undoubtedly be back to bite most of the luxury brands in China in the near future, and one that they could to some extent blame on the generally poor service culture in the country. Unfortunately, this is an challege that they cannot side step any more and they need to address. Perhaps the watershed of 2012, and the changing strategies of the big brands in particular will result in staff seeing professional employment in the luxury sector as a vocation, putting their heart and soul into their job, and not waiting to be told to do it.


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