Apple Changes iPhone 4 Rules Due to Scalpers

Apple has been forced to change the way it sells iPhones at its four Apple Stores in China in order to deal with a problem many other companies could only dream of having: Scalpers. According to two Chinese language reports (MacSir, Fawan), scalpers (and even “gangs” of scalpers) have been buying up stock in the Apple Stores in China and reselling them at a profit outside of those same stores.

At issue is a shortage of iPhone 4 units in China, combined with the fact that Apple’s retail locations are the only place to buy an iPhone 4 without a contract in the country. China doesn’t have the same tradition of carrier subsidies as the U.S., and it would appear that many Chinese customers want contract-free iPhones.

Demand for the device has apparently been high enough for scalpers to resell units that cost 4,999 Yuan (US$747.13) for 300-500 ($44.84 - $74.73) Yuan more. This was made possible by the elimination of any limits on the number of iPhones each customer could buy, and so the scalpers were buying them four or more at a time.

One scalper bragged to reporters that he had waited through the long lines over several days to buy 20 iPhones. He sold six of them to grey-market resellers that operate on the fringe of the Chinese economy, while he was able to sell 14 directly to customers outside of Apple’s own stores.

According to reports, the long lines and even a fight that broke out after a gang of scalpers cut the line resulted in Apple temporarily shutting one of its stores in Beijing, and the company has had to institute a one-phone-per-customer limit on iPhones that includes customers having to produce identification during checkout.

Apple sold out of the first 200,000 iPhones the first day of availability, which contrasts sharply with the release of the iPhone 3GS in 2009, which requires several days to sell only a few thousand units.

MicGadget has a number of photographs taken in and outside Apple Stores in China, and MacSir has photos of scalpers operating within site of the front doors of an Apple Store.