The Truth about Apple in the Middle East

On February 2, 2007, in Opinion, by Mazen Al-Angary


This article may piss-off a lot of people, and it may generate a lot of hate mail. Send it to me at MazenAlangary@gmail.com

But before things get messy, let me give you a quick background about myself. I am an independent corporate advisor, who has had the pleasure of working with multi-national companies, start-ups, and governments around the world. Mostly in dealing and handling contracts and projects that has cost, in some cases, over a billion US dollars. But what really matters here is that I am a passionate Mac-user.

The sad fact is that Apple has no true presence in the Middle-East market. I have yapped about this numerous times before, especially when I talked about the iPhone and its Tsunami effect in a previous article. Apple’s official dealer, ABM, is hiding behind the walls of the two MacStores they’ve set up since they got the exclusive dealership.

I had to do a lot of digging to find out that ABM (Arab Business Machines) is a subsidiary of a giant holding company called MDS group. It’s ABM that has rights to sell Apple products not only in the Mid-East, but in other countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Romania, and Turkey, and many other locations scattered around Europe, Asia, Africa, and of course here in the Middle-East.

Population in this part of the Middle-East is over 172,310,000. that’s over 170 million people, and how many countries is the dealer covering or should be covering right now? They are the Apple dealer in the Mid-East covering Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. That’s eleven countries for one sole dealer. if you look at the dealers website (search for “Middle-East” on Apple.com, because it’s hard to find) you will find a listing of resellers’ stores that can be easily found on their site but difficult to locate on the ground, claiming they sell Apple products only. Unfortunately this is nothing more then a facade to convince Apple Inc. that ABM is doing a great job by spread Macs. The only official store I saw was placed remotely over a thousand miles away from where I live, in another city, in another country altogether.

So let me tell you what happened to me personally when I went to the “official” MacStore in Dubai, UAE and how I was treated. Please keep in mind that I love Macs so I was very tolerant, although disgusted by the way I was treated. Then imagine what a potential switcher would think.

I walked into the MacStore in Ibn Battuta Mall, which if you look at any Dubai map will find that it’s located at the furthest point from the city’s center. I took a look at all the products they displayed in that tiny store and decided to buy a Mighty Mouse. Peering at the price tag I discover that it was selling for US $70 (AED 260). Isn’t that product suppose to retail for US $49?

I then walked to the so called “Apple genius” to ask him about an issue I had. The guy didn’t know anything, he seemed lost in a single tasking universe, and told me that on Windows XP you can do it by clicking on this and that (he even confessed that he uses Windows, he “gazed” at Macs during his working hours only) Minutes passed by while he squeezed his DOS cluttered brain too hard that his face turned red against my murky yellow smile, his colleague called on him, then I heard the colleague say.

“What are you doing? You’re wasting your time, just ignore him!”

“Ignore ME?!!” I thought? I am a customer. I went to that rude salesperson to ask him about my issue, he said “Listen, get online and look it up on Apple’s website” which clearly sounded like “Buzz off!” to my ears.

Now I don’t know how Apple’ geniuses deal with their customers around the world or at least in the US, but this is how it’s done in Dubai’s orphan MacStore that I’ve been to.

What about Apple’s market place? To be very frank, if it wasn’t for Mac users and fans there would never be any market for Apple products. When I switched I felt like I was the only Mac-user around this part of the world. But then started to get emails from Mac users from all around the region because of the articles of mine published on MyMac.com. It was only then that I got to know that these guys are the ones keeping Apple and the Mac culture alive.

You may ask, how can anyone get a Mac over here? I will tell you how I got mine and when I checked I found out that a lot of new switchers did the same. We pulled out our Windows PCs, surf to Amazon.com (since Apple doesn’t sell to international customers), placed an order, then ship it to an address in the US. That address could either be a relative’s address or a company that you would pay loads of money to receive products on your behalf, then reships them over to you, So you end up paying the full retail price, plus taxes (although you’re going to ship internationally) and then pay the shipping company or relative to send it over to you. When it reaches this side of the globe, you pay customs fees between 5% to 100% depending on where you live for that shiny new computer. Sound pleasant doesn’t it? Well this is how we do it. I got 3 Macs and 5 iPods this way, holding my breath while the Macs (or iPods) are in transit that nothing bad happens to the box while it’s on the way. After I get it in my hands, I kiss Apple’s one year warranty goodbye. If it is defected or was miss-handled on its way I’ll have to live with it.

Apple’s official ambassador in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, decided to take it upon his shoulders to open up an Apple reseller store. The guy invested a lot of money in this venture. He gets Macs from the US the same way individuals do, and sells them with a small fraction over the US retail price for a markup, plus offering his customers a one year warranty just like Apple’s. Why? Because he is a Mac user, and he wants everyone to become Mac users. Buying Macs from his store is cheaper then going through all the hassle and mischief of ordering it from Amazon or any other online retailer.

I tried to find a good excuse for the Mid-East dealer not to be interested in spreading the brand, so I asked Apple’s ambassador about how well his store is doing when it comes to sales. He told me that they sell Macs faster then they get them. “There is a lot of demand! If you don’t reserve a Mac before we place a new order, you won’t be lucky enough to get one.” Said Ayman Ghazzawi, Apple’s ambassador in Jeddah. So there is a demand, and obviously a huge one.

What about Mac support? Now give me a minute to laugh about that and I’ll be back…

There is no real support for Macs here. The only place I would trust would be the ambassador’s store I mentioned, because he is the only one who hired certified Apple help desk specialists.

So why is the official dealer, Arab Business Machines, doing this? Because to them Apple isn’t a big market and they don’t want to invest enough to help spread the brand and gain market shares. They are also not Mac users. I heard a believable rumor that goes; their sales-reps don’t use Macs. The company uses PCs in their offices. Not Macs! I would never buy a Mac if you’re a sales-rep talking to me from behind a PC screen.

Let me give you a quick and simple corporate strategy lesson here. When you want to spread a powerful brand yet new to a market, you shouldn’t look for a big company that will list you as “one of” on their brand collection list they brag about. You should look for someone who’s mid-size or small yet has the passion to do it, to fight for it. Or at least a big company that understands this concept and is willing to designate a full division to achieve this goal. I don’t think this is Apple’s fault. I believe they’ve been mislead. It’s unfortunate that Arab Business Machines doesn’t have any passion to sell Macs. Small resellers have more passion then they do.

If Apple is thinking of getting a new dealer, which I think they should, they have to make sure that the new dealer will contact Mac groups and get their help and support. They are the ones who are spreading Macs around the region, not the current dealer. And they are the same people who I heard saying that they will buy the iPhone in June when it ships in the US whether it has a locked or unlocked SIM.

I wrote this because all of the bitterness I feel when I see how Apple is doing in this part of the world. They are missing out on a big market that offers a lot of opportunities, that Microsoft has blown-away because of their inflated prices. I only know of one person who can make such miracles, Steve Jobs. He did it before numerous times and he can do it again, but I think his Mid-East dealers aren’t giving him a clear and honest perspective on how the true picture looks like around here.

Now if you think I said it all you’re mistaken, this is just the beginning. I’m barely flexing my brain cells, and I will not stop till I make a difference in this region. There’s much, much more to come.

Copyright (c) 2007 Mazen Al-Angary, All rights reserved.

 

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