BEIJING — It looks almost exactly like a sleek Apple store. Sales assistants in blue T-shirts featuring the company's logo chat with customers. Signs advertising the iPad 2 hang on the white walls. Outside, the famous logo sits next to the words "Apple Store" — one of the few clues that the whole thing is a fake.
China, long known for producing counterfeit consumer gadgets, software and brand-name clothing, has reached a new piracy milestone — fake Apple stores.
An American who lives in Kunming in southern Yunnan province said Thursday that she and her husband stumbled upon three shops masquerading as bona fide Apple stores in the city a few days ago. She took photos and posted them on her BirdAbroad blog.
The 27-year-old blogger, who asked the Associated Press not to identify her, said the setup of the stores is so convincing that the employees themselves seem to believe they work for Apple.
"It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue T-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks," she wrote on her blog.
"But some things were just not right: The stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn't been painted properly. Apple never writes 'Apple Store' on its signs — it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit."
The three stores are not among the authorized resellers listed on Apple's website. The maker of the iPhone and other hit gadgets has four company stores in China — two in Beijing and two in Shanghai — and various official resellers.
The manager of an authorized reseller in Kunming, who gave only his surname, Zhang, said most customers have no idea the stores are fakes.
Some of the staffers in the stores "can't even operate computers properly or tell you all the functions of the mobile phone," he said.
The proliferation of the fake stores underlines the slow progress that China's government is making in countering a culture of rampant piracy and widespread production of bogus goods.
China's official Xinhua News Agency reported this month that police arrested more than 9,000 suspects in a nine-month piracy-fighting campaign as it shut down more than 12,000 factories that produced counterfeit goods. China's supreme court said this spring that the nation's judicial system rendered verdicts last year in more than 40,000 intellectual property cases involving property with a combined value of almost $1.2 billion.