[THE INVESTOR] Apple‘s long-awaited first brick-and-mortar store in Korea opened to much fanfare on Jan. 27, with hundreds of Apple fans braving the biting cold overnight to be one of the first to enter the store.
However, it is unclear whether Apple -- whose market share flags behind home-grown electronics giants Samsung and LG -- will be able to harness the symbolism of its offline branch to increase its presence here.
One of the main complaints of Apple users in the past had been that not having physical Apple Stores in Korea had blocked conveniences such as detailed explanations of products and official Apple troubleshooting or repair services enjoyed by users in other countries.
Apple users speaking with The Korea Herald were divided on whether the new store would alleviate these existing concerns.
“The store came too late to Korea in my opinion, but I’m glad it opened because it shows Apple cares about its Korean consumers,” said Yang Jae-sung, who uses an iPhone. “But in terms of receiving repairs, the location is far from public transportation a bit inconvenient.”
Another user said that she probably would not even attempt to reserve services at the Genius Bar, after her experiences trying to receive repairs through one of Apple‘s Korean partner companies.
“It was so hard to find a reservation that fit my schedule, and eventually I became so angry that I just went to an unofficial private repair shop,” said Kim Ji-ah. “There must have been a lot of others like me, because there are always a bunch of private repair shops around an official repair store. Apple Garosugil will probably not be much different.”
Park Jin-young also said that she had received repairs at private repair shops.
“It’s true that Garosugil is not the ideal location for receiving repairs, but I‘m definitely willing to make the trip...I could never be sure that I’m getting proper service or the right price quotes when I go to private shops.”
To the avid Apple fans, convenience is far down their list of reasons for favoring the product, industry watchers said.
“Apple consumers are fiercely loyal, and waiting for Genius Bar services is considered to be just part of the experience,” said an industry official. “The Apple Store is more of a marketing channel that allows the brand to communicate directly with its users than a place for convenience, and users know that. Apple users will happily make the trip to Garosugil. Non-Apple users, not so much.”
Apple Garusogil, which became the first offline branch in Korea since iPhones hit the market here in 2009, offers consumers the chance to browse and test out products, attend workshops about how to best utilize products and consult with Apple engineers, dubbed “Geniuses,” for repairs.
However, the store is not yet able to sign up new data users on iPhones or iPads.
“The system for allowing Apple to register new data plan users is still being created,” said an official with a wireless carrier. “Although the exact date has not yet been determined, we expect the system to be operational in March or April.”
Meanwhile, Apple‘s latest flagship phone iPhone X is struggling to drive sales in Korea. According to reports, the model sold about 400,000 units in the first two months since its release in late November 2017, falling sharply after the first week of sales.
In addition to stagnant sales of the iPhone X, Apple also faces lawsuits in Korean courts over the software upgrades on its older iPhone models that slowed down operations to handle battery problems.
In addition to two group suits filed by a consumers’ rights group and local law firm Hwimyung earlier this month, local law firm Hannuri is gathering plaintiffs for a third suit. According to reports, over 400,000 iPhone users have expressed interests in becoming plaintiffs in the case.
The first suit represents 122 plaintiffs asking for 2.2 million won (US$2,065) in damages per plaintiff, while the Hwimyung suit represents 403 consumers asking 300,000 won per plaintiff.
By Won Ho-jung/The Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org)