Bangkok Diary 16 October 2007: Tuesday afternoon and a quick dip into Apple retail outlets
By Graham K. Rogers
Unlike a significant number of countries these days, Apple does not have any retail outlet in Thailand in the same way as those Apple shops that exist in London, Tokyo or San Francisco (the only one I have been to). Nor is there any online presence. There is information, there are links, but those online shops might as well not exist.
This means, of course, that those special purchases like the (Product) Red iPod cannot be had here; nor the 160G AppleTV, although this has appeared in the Land of Smiles. Some things have a way of getting through.
As an example today, in Siam Center I saw an advertisement in Thai for the 10 year celebrations of one of the malls in the area and a prize for those who spent over 300,000 baht (almost $1,000) was a draw for an iPhone. Head across the road to floor 4 of the Mahboonkrong center and there are piles of the things there, all unlocked (perhaps all bricked by now) at something like 24,000 baht (some $800).
What that lack of an online presence means is that it it impossible to buy QuickTime Pro here. Again, things have a way of getting through and when I was after a copy of this, I was offered two alternatives before I forced a third.
First, a retailer offered to give me a copy. There is also the infamous Phantip Plaza where it is often possible to track down copies of software or movies even before they are released. This includes, a couple of years back, a developer version of Tiger that would run on a PC, all in an official looking box. There is hardware too and not so long ago there was a series of Chinese made iPod nanos on offer.
I spoke to people I had come to know at Apple in Singapore and we arranged that an account would be created for me there. I gave my credit card number over the phone and the code to unlock QuickTime's crown jewels appeared in an email.
Officially, it is too much effort to set up online purchasing here with credit cards owing to restrictions that the Bank of Thailand insists upon. I am not totally convinced and think it has more to do with the distribution system here: another layer between Apple and the retailers; while all of the retailers are either totally independent (one or two bring stuff in from Hong Kong while others allegedly buy from Singapore directly), or are in a franchise system here called iStudio. Unfortunately, the tidy site has almost no English, so if you do not have Thai fonts, your browser will just display hieroglyphics.
I grabbed the product sheets from each of the three shops I went into and this has saved me a lot of time as the prices are identical in each with one exception (below). That is not to say that these shops are equal. I did notice that prices on one item, the iPod touch, differed slightly (100 baht) from the official price I was given a couple of weeks ago.
The iStudio in Siam Discovery Center was formerly run by Copperwired but it now owned by Z29. A couple of years ago, the shop was a fairly small affair across from a Starbucks outlet, with the technicians stuck in a tiny space behind the cash register; but under its new bosses, they first expanded next door into what had been an Arts shop beside Asia Books, then refurbished the older part of the shop and opened the whole as a warm-looking, long and thin shop. They also use the space outside between the shop and Starbucks to display the more popular items like MacBooks and iPods, and one of the staff was sitting out there today.
Why spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar? And if what follows does not make this a little more clear, try this link to Blurtit where the expression is explained. Despite having a well equipped shop with the latest Mac hardware on display, and everything kept to a high level of shine, the product sheets are cheap and nasty xeroxes with faded pictures, unclear ink and smears to the headings.
To be fair, this is not the only shop to do this, but the customer has a choice, particularly with the expanded retail presence these days, and considering the premium prices and the reputation for quality that Apple does still hold, cheapo sheets do not cut it.
The iStudio here, which was delayed a few months from its original planned opening date, is run by Copperwired. They used to run the Siam Discovery shop and it was noted for being packed out a lot of the time. They also have a branch in the yuppie area of Sukhumvit Road, called Soi Thonglor where at least one of the staff has almost perfect English; and they have also now taken over the quieter iStudio in the refurbished Central World; although that is beginning to pick up somewhat.
Although the prices of Macs are the same, accessories differ. I noticed particularly some external hard disks which were much higher priced in Siam Discovery. There was also a wider choice of such disks as well as wireless routers, Wacom tablets and a gorgeous Wacom display, books, software. There are also more staff and more customers, plus a better chance that one or more of the staff will have some English.
Their handouts were far better: printed, not xeroxed. Some of them also used both sides and on the reverse showed some of the accessories that are available. One thing I noticed was that the iMac 24" 2.8GHz was shown but was marked, "Call for Pricing": so I asked. I was quickly told that these were priced at 96,900 baht including VAT.
The shop had been busy but it was clear from my earlier visits and comments from one or two other callers, that staff training (or at least the information they had), needed some reinforcement. This mirrored comments I had heard about a branch of the same company in Phuket.
Things are improving. I made a grab for the price "sheets" only to find that it was singular; it was large, and it was in colour. An A3 sheet folded over to give four pages full of products: Mac and others. The illustrations are a little on the small side, but they obviously have to pack a lot in; and some of the specifications need reading in a good light, although prices are clearly printed and are in red.
Unlike the other two, this iStudio is offering old stock, although they do not have much and, when I asked about the iMac, for example, it was specified these were demo models. The 2.8GHz iMac was not shown, so I asked. Not here. Not in the country was the answer; so I pulled out the sheets from Copperwired and showed the specs and the hand-written price. "I'll be right back," he said.
Yes. We can get these. They are special order (which I knew), although he used the expression, "build to order" which amounts to the same thing, more or less. Their price was 93,000 baht, which was slighly less than the other quote I had been given.
I had the impression here that I would have liked to have seen more hardware on display. There was one new iMac on a shelf, although it was accessible. Several Mac notebooks were in use; but a Mac mini was in a perspex box and I could see no MacPro, even though these were listed.
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