Although Russia is famous for geeks and freewheeling spending, Apple has not yet opened a store here and its products are difficult to come by – at least through official channels. So even as they wait eagerly to see what the iPad3 has to offer, some Russians are grumbling that Apple has snubbed their country.
“Apple does not see Russia as a key market,” says Mikhail Ukolov, general director of Utinet, Russia’s leading online computer technology store. “It’s almost as if they thought we were a third world country.”
Apple may be underwhelmed by Russia but it has won admirers at an overwhelmingly high level. Dmitry Medvedev who visited Apple’s San Francisco headquarters during a trip to Silicon Valley in 2010, is often pictured on television carrying an iPhone, Macbook Pro or iPad. On several occasions the outgoing Russian president has enthused in public about the iPad’s usefulness – whether for playing Angry Birds, reading newspapers like the FT or tracking down illegal casino rings on the internet.
Moscow computer stores were warning would-be iPad buyers today that they might have to wait at least until May for the new tablets to arrive. Even then there may not be enough to go round.
Apple assigns Russia limited quotas for its products, says Ukolov. But Russian customs are also to blame for the problems tangling importers in copious paper work.
Staff at Bely Veter (White Wind) Digital, the official retail outlet for Apple in Russia, say the shortages made iPads more desirable and should be seen as a positive marketing strategy. “We had a two month waiting list when selling the first iPads (in 2010),” said Sergei, a manager at one of Bely Veter’s stores in central Moscow. “Products seem more exclusive if they are in tight supply. Apple has very good PR.”
Others said the shortages were driving a lively black market for iPads in Russia with traders flying to and fro the US to pick up supplies. “Ten flights arrive everyday from the US,” says Ukolov. “There is probably someone on board each one with a suitcase full of iPads.”
Of course it may not bother Apple very much where it sells its products as long as the customers keep rolling in. When reporting its latest stellar financial results the company did not provide a country-by-country sales breakdown.
However, Apple officials have made clear that with the exception of China, which accounted for $4.5bn, or 16 per cent of the company’s total revenues in the fourth quarter of 2011, Bric countries are not yet a priority. Here’s what Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive had to say. “We’re in all of these countries today… We’re beginning to see traction in most of these, but we recognise we have to focus to deeply understand the point that we can really get to a large revenue figure like Greater China currently is.”
Translation: Russia will have to wait a bit longer.
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