Where do people in Kabul go when they want to buy an iPhone? The same place as everybody else: an Apple Store. But one thing separates the Apple Store in, say, New York, from the one in Kabul: Apple either doesn’t know it exists, or doesn’t care.
There is nothing new about unofficial Apple stores. Chinese authorities found 22 of them last year, right down to staff uniforms. The shop in Kabul is not nearly as ambitious. A small space in Afghanistan’s largest mall, in the posh Share-e-Naw district, it doesn’t look very much like Apple Stores in the rest of the world. (The picture above was posted by photographer Massoud Hossaini on his Instagram feed.)
Nor does it enjoy the margins enjoyed by the company whose name it bears. Mohammed Nasery, the store’s sales manager, told Quartz he sells the 16GB iPhone 5 for $700, about $50 more than its price in America. The merchandise comes from Dubai, where the 16GB iPhone 5 retails for 2599 dirhams (about $710). With discounts for buying in bulk, he estimates that margins vary from $10 to $50 across products.
Still, sales are brisk. The store sells five or six iPhones and one or two laptops every day, mostly to young locals who work for private companies, says Nasery. There is plenty of demand, he said, but availability of products is slim.
That is borne out by Esmatullah Rahimi, a former Apple Store Afghanistan employee. “It’s very trendy to own an iPhone or an iPad. These young Afghans work around foreigners who have iPods and Macs and iPads, and they want them too,” Rahimi told students from USC Annenberg in an interview last year. “If you see a woman using an iPhone, even if she’s wearing the hijab you know she’s got money and that she wants people to notice her. You don’t really look twice if she’s on a Nokia, you know?”
Opened in August 2010, the store is doing well enough for its owners to consider expansion. A repair centre is coming up, a website is under construction and Nasery says they are considering a second outlet in another Kabul location.
Afghanistan is not unique in its fascination for Apple. The company enjoys great cachet in the emerging world, from Moscow’s bars to Mumbai’s malls. Yet Apple is only belatedly waking up to developing markets. After years of neglecting India, for instance, sales surged when the company changed its distribution and introduced financing schemes.
Afghanistan illustrates that similar pent-up demand exists across the world—Apple only has to take advantage of it. For now though, Kabul must make do with its knock-off Apple Store. Nasery says he took some pictures of the store when it opened and mailed them to Apple. He never heard back.