If you’re an upwardly mobile Moscovite getting paid in rubles and you’ve seen the dollar value of your monthly salary fall from $2,500 to $1,000, you’re going to be looking with some urgency for a way to convert those rubles before their value falls even further.
“As the Ruble Swoons, Russians Desperately Shop” was the headline Tuesday on a New York Times story that featured this man-in-the-mall anecdote:
At the Apple store in the AviaPark mall, Sergey Akimov, a 22-year-old technology worker, said his dreams of foreign travel had evaporated, so he was spending the money on a new iPhone 6, selling in rubles for considerably less than its American price of $650 because of the rapidly depreciating exchange rate. ‘This is instead of my vacation,’ he said, smiling. The store raised prices during the day as the currency slid.”
As it happens, there are no Apple Stores in Russia. But there has been, since the summer of 2013, an online Apple Store. It’s Apple’s main direct interface with the country’s consumers, and it was going gangbusters even before the currency collapse. Russian iPhone sales doubled in 2013 to 1.57 million, according to IDC, and added another 1.9 million units in the first nine months of 2014.
The ruble’s subsequent free-fall made the iPhone an increasing popular alternative to cash — especially since you could freeze the device’s selling price in rubles by ordering it online. Apple raised prices 25% across the board last month, but it was not enough.
On Tuesday, citing “extreme currency fluctuations,” Apple suspended online sales in Russia of all its products.
“Our online store in Russia is currently unavailable while we review pricing,” said an Apple spokesman. “We apologize to customers for any inconvenience.”
iPhones should be the least of Russia’s worries right now. But there you have it.