If you have lived in any major Russian city, you would understand that Russia’s population has a mind of its own. One could say that this country in itself combines the modern trends of the Western world, the warmth of the middle east and the infrastructure of some Asian countries.
However, it is fascinating how the nation always keeps up with the newest tendencies of the world, whether it is fashion, economical viewpoints or, for that matter, Apple gadgets.
And no, Russia is not (and has never been) a humongous field covered in snow with Orthodox churches, and bears walking on the streets. It is a rapidly developing country with a unique economy of it’s own. On a street you may find a homeless old woman praying on her knees with an Orthodox icon in her hands and a young child walking out of his parent’s Bentley, dressed in Armani, a Vertu phone and an iPad in his backpack, accompanied by his bodyguards. Now, as sad as it may seem, that is one of the main factors, why Russia could increase the sales of Apple’s products. Unfortunately for Russia, it is listed as one of the countries with the greatest income difference between “the rich and the poor”. And in the last five years anyone who has lived in Russia should have noticed a major increase in the tendencies of the latter example explained above. The mindset of individual Russians has always been about being superior, and, no, there is no judgement here: that is a great source of motivation for Russians. Since the very childhood, most toddlers dream of going to school, then finishing school as soon as they can, get into a prestigious university as soon as they can (sometimes at the age of 15-16); be more successful, be more intelligent, be different and, very often, look wealthier than the rest. And that “look” is normally represented by the clothes they wear, the car they drive and the gadgets they use. One may think that that makes the population artificial and overambitious. And some Russians may think so too, however, it is still an aftermath effect from Russia in the 90s. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has been importing all the goods from the Western world, as before they have been banned. This form of deficit lays deep down in the mindset of most Russians, and even nowadays this kind of behaviour, explained by the past of Russians, forces people to buy foreign products in order to avoid a potential product deficiency.
Back in 2007 when the first iPhone launched, Russia was still in it’s “non-smartphone” stage. Also, most, if not all, of the iPhones were imported by unofficial dealers and sold on the “black market”. People were unfamiliar with the iPhone and only one out of five people would have the iPhone 2G. Over the period of the 3G and 3GS, the iPhone has gained the interest of many Russians. However, very little official retail stores would sell Apple’s gadgets and the unofficial sellers, who went from Moscow to New York just to buy several hundreds of iPhones, made a living of their semi-illegal (one was not allowed to import more than 3-4 iPhones into the country without having problems with the customs house) business: they would keep their prices very high up to six months after the release of the iPhone, all due to the lack of product on the market and the will of the buyer to see his co-workers’/classmates’/friends’ faces when the see the brand new iPhone. ‘THE’ iPhone has become a symbol of wealth and prestige among the middle/higher social strata. Knowing that, the individual unofficial iPhone sellers kept importing Apple’s gadgets into the country and raising the prices.
By 2010 the nation started keeping up with the Apple rumours and news, whether it was from a newspaper, the radio or a friend. They knew that a new iPhone with an entirely new design, better camera and a Retina display was coming up. So did the unofficial sellers. And they were organised and equipped: they went from various Russian cities to Tokyo, New York, California, Beijing and other distant locations of the planet just to buy the iPhones for resell. And at that point the sellers set their prices at around $2.500 (±$500) per single iPhone 4 16 Gb (there has also been some “iPhone racism” in the market: the white iPhones could cost $100 more than the black versions). Shockingly, by the end of the first two-three weeks of “unofficial” sales, most, if not all, of the iPhone 4 were wiped off the market, even though the official stores, selling Apple products, could offer the same phone for an acceptable price in 2-3 months after the official release of the product in the States. The story is very similar with MacBooks, iMacs and iPads.
Now, if you are still reading this article and thinking why Apple didn’t use the chance to open Apple stores in Russia, well, that is probably because of certain social factors. According to an article on AppleInsider.ru, the official Russian reseller stores offer(ed) the iPhones at high prices. So most people, waiting several months for the “iPhone gold rush” to end, would find different ways of purchasing an iPhone, other than in the official reseller stores with unreasonable prices. People would find a family member, going for vacation to the United States, and ask him/her to buy them a little “Apple treat” or, again, they would turn to the unofficial sellers with lower prices. Therefore, one could not tell how many Russians own an Apple gadget, as most of them have been purchased in a way, that wouldn’t be visible on a chart or a diagram. And Apple would only launch an official Apple store if a documented number of their devices would exceed a certain threshold in the country. Though, Apple will probably not be sending employees to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major Russian cities just to record the number of people, who use their products.
One might also think that with the current Russia–Ukraine controversy and the disagreements between the Western world and Russia, the Russian population may reconsider their opinion about purchasing American products. That opinion proves to be wrong. The younger generation of Russians (35 and under) have always and will always appreciate the famous American brands, such as Disney, Starbucks, McDonalds, Malboro and, of course, Apple. This is all due to the will of individuals to feel wealthier, seem more progressive and move away from the economical structure of the Soviet Union (as described earlier).
It could be a 60-year-old businessman or a 10-year-old school student, a Russian will always want to be one step ahead of his or her fellow citizen, whether it is the amount of countries travelled to, number of books read or just knowing that they have a newer version of the iPhone. And, as selfish as it may seem, Apple could use the mindset of the Russian nation in their own favour, open Apple stores and await a high profit from their official Russian stores.