iPhone mules are taking our handsets, damnit!
Johnny Foreigner fuels UK iPhone shortage
Thirty years ago, I met a Frenchman who lived in Kent and was on the dole. He had to sign on every two weeks. He was also registered as unemployed in France, where he signed on once a month.
So each month he would cross the ferry in his van, laden with... upright pianos. As you already know, pianos were much popular in Victorian and early 20th Century Britain than in France, and so secondhand supply was plentiful and cheap. Unlike France.
Where was I? Ah yes, here is an example of an enterprising young fella, who played the system in both countries and seized upon a cross-country arbitrage opportunity. Just like the Brits used to descend on Calais for cheap booze and fags and washing powder.
In the early days of mass-market PAYG mobile phones, foreigners, mostly French, would swoop on British supermarkets and buy cellco-subsidised phones by the dozen to sell on in their own country.
This left the operators nursing losses as they were unable to offset the handset subsidy against call revenues. Soon enough, the market was extinguished with the introduction of "locked" pre-paid phones.
This brings us to one of the sillier claims of the week: how Eastern European traders are fuelling iPhone 4 shortages in the UK, thus "depriving ordinary customers of getting their hands on them".
Stand in line
The story from the Daily Mail, is that an unlocked iPhone costs twice as much in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa than in the UK.
So brokers are exploiting this arbitrage opportunity, sometimes by paying runners in their hundreds to queue up outside an Apple Store. For this, the mules are paid up to £70 a pop.
Apple told the Mail that it would "prefer not to engage" with this story, so let us try instead.
UK punters could always get their iPhone fix from an operator - but that typically means an expensive 18-month or two-year contract. Or they can get up earlier and stand in line. Or they can wait a few weeks before all the fuss dies down. More iPhone 4s will fly out the factories and grey market prices will come down abroad, reducing the arbitrage opportunity.
In due course, Apple will roll out the iPhone with cellcos in more countries and the price differential will disappear. In the meantime, a lot of people in Britain are making some or a lot of money from Johnny Foreigner - and let's not forget Apple and its UK retail staff are quids in too. Where is the harm?
I bought one from the Apple Store in Bristol a couple of weeks ago - I rang to see if they had any in about 10:30am and they'd just had a bunch turn up. I hotfoooted it down there to find an already-lengthy queue predominantly made of up swarthy-looking non-anglo-saxon types all paying £1200 in either £20 or £50 notes for two unlocked 32GB models.
My apologies of course for the steroetypical Mail-esque racial profiling but they didn't exactly look like your typical Apple user....
The start of this article...
...should be read in the voice of Grandpa Simpson.
Our world is too small now to have staggered releases of popular items.
I can't really blame someone for seeing an opportunity and going for it.
"Well done for pointing out the Daily Mail's typical xenophobic crap."
And how did you make that leap dear? The Daily Mail and El Reg report on a factual matter and just because the report mentions foreign people you pull out the Race Card? How completely pathetic and immature. Why don't you grow yourself a pair and just deal with life as it is.
The fact is that these queues are there, people (including British-hating xenophiles like yourself) can go along any day of the week and see them there. They are disadvantaging bona fide IK customers, fact. So whats this then? Too many facts for your intellect to handle?
Consumers v. Corporations
When we exercise our market freedoms, we are guilty of shopping at the 'grey market'. When corporation offshore much of their production and/or services - they are being efficient. I normally reject the term 'grey market' because of exactly this - there's nothing grey about it at all, just that the corporations don't want you to enjoy the freedoms that they do.