By Melanie Lee
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinese counterfeiters have had a field-day pumping out knockoffs of Apple Inc's best-selling iPhones and iPads but one appears to have gone a step further -- a near flawless fake Apple Store that even employees believe is the real deal.
The store in Kunming was stumbled upon by a 27-year-old American blogger living in the city, the capital of China's mountainous southwestern Yunnan province.
Complete with the white Apple logo, wooden tables and cheery staff claiming they work for the iPhone maker, the store looks every bit like Apple Stores found all over the world, according to the blogger, who goes by the name "BirdAbroad."
But Apple has no stores in Kunming and only 13 authorized resellers in the city, who are not allowed to call themselves Apple Stores or claim to work for Apple.
"This was a total Apple store rip-off. A beautiful rip-off - a brilliant one - the best rip-off store we had ever seen," the anonymous blogger posted on Wednesday. "Being the curious types that we are, we struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple."
It was unclear whether the store was selling fake or genuine Apple products -- there are countless unauthorized resellers of Apple and other brands' electronic products throughout the country who sell the real thing but obtain their goods by buying them overseas and smuggling them into the country to skip tax.
The store had sections devoted to different Apple products, similar to real Apple stores, and large posters advertising the iPhone 4 and MacBook Pro, according to photos on the blog. (http://birdabroad.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/are-you-listening-steve-jobs/)
Apple declined to comment. The Cupertino, California-based firm reported forecast-smashing results on Tuesday, helped by massive growth in Asia, and China in particular.
Apple, which was slow to establish its brand in China, currently has four retail outlets in Beijing and Shanghai. The firm plans another two more this year, including one in Shanghai and another in Hong Kong.
But the immense popularity of Apple's iPads, iPhones and Macbook computers has spurred a bumper crop of resellers with dubious credentials.
At one unauthorized Apple reseller in Shanghai visited on Thursday, the shop was decorated in much the same way as Apple stores, with wooden tables and chairs with iPads laid out for customers to try out.
The shop was not contained on a list of authorized Apple resellers in Shanghai. (http://www.apple.com.cn/reseller/index.php)
But the proprietors fell short on the attention to detail displayed by their counterparts in Kunming. For one, the store also sold some other products, like chocolate jigsaw puzzles, that would never see the light of day at a real Apple Store.
"Do you have a web camera for my Macbook?," asked one customer.
"No, but our other store in Lujiazui should have it," said the sales representative, referring to Apple's genuine retail store in the heart of Shanghai's financial district.
When approached, none of the staff claimed to work for Apple or that the store was an actual Apple Store. Customers appeared unfazed.
"I prefer to get my Apple products fixed here. It's very troublesome going to the real Apple store in Lujiazui because not only do you have to pay to get repairs, but you have to make an appointment to see the sales specialist," said Xavier, a 30-something expatriate who declined to give his last name.
"The prices are the same as the real store but the service is better here," he added, before whipping out his two iPads to tinker with.
(Editing by Jason Subler and Lincoln Feast)