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Apple lets buyers in China pay in installments

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Financing now available ... an Apple Store in Beijing, China.

Financing now available ... an Apple Store in Beijing, China.

Apple has introduced instalment payment plans for buyers of iPhones and MacBook laptops in China as it struggles to compete with low-cost devices in the world's largest computer and mobile-phone market.

Payments on purchases costing from 300 yuan ($A46) to 30,000 yuan ($A4565) made via the company's Chinese website can be spread over as long as two years, according to the site. The plan, which requires a China Merchants Bank credit card, has fees ranging from zero to 8.5 per cent.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, is trying to make its products more affordable in China after being surpassed by local suppliers such as ZTE and Lenovo in the smartphone market. The iPhone 5, released in China last month, is priced at 5288 yuan ($A805) on Apple's local site, equal to about six weeks' pay for the average urban worker.

"There is an enormous mid-range consumer market that they are not tapping into," said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based market research firm. "They're trying to figure out how to make products more accessible to that market segment. This is a good step in that direction."

Monthly payments

Online customers in China will be able to split payments into three, six, 12, 18 or 24 instalments, according to Apple's website. Through January 23, choosing 12 or fewer instalments carries no fee. A fee of 6.5 per cent of the selling price will be charged for 18 instalments, and 8.5 per cent for 24 instalments.

Carolyn Wu, a Beijing-based Apple spokeswoman, declined to say how or if those fees are divided between the company and the bank.

Apple dropped to sixth in China's smartphone market in the third quarter, from fourth in the prior three-month period, as local producers lured buyers with smartphones costing less than 1000 yuan ($A152) each, according to research firm IDC.

The tech giant is also opening new stores in China and chief executive Tim Cook has visited twice in the past 10 months as the company tries to boost sales. The country will eventually overtake the US to become Apple's largest market, Cook said last week.

Urban workers in China had average monthly pay of about 3585 yuan ($A545) in the first nine months of last year, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Apple "has likely approached maximum penetration in China's higher economic stratas, and now needs to be able to appeal to students, workers and rural residents to sustain robust growth," said David Wolf, China managing director for market consultant Allison+Partners in Beijing.

"Financing is traditionally the best route to make expensive luxury items affordable to those unable to save the cash for them, and if Apple pulls it off it will be a pioneer in consumer credit in China," Wolf said.

US, Brazil

Apple has used financing plans in other markets, including Australia, the US, Brazil and Singapore, according to its local sites for those countries.

In the US, a limited time offer allows new Visa card members with Barclays Bank Delaware to get no-interest financing for as long as 18 months. Users of the company's online store in Brazil can pay in 12 instalments without interest when placing an order with American Express, MasterCard or Visa, according to the local site. In Singapore, the company offers a 12-month interest-free instalment plan on purchases of at least $S668 ($A516) with a Citibank credit card.

In China, Apple recorded $US5.7 billion of sales during the quarter ended September. The company has 11 retail outlets in the country, including Hong Kong.

The phone-maker distributes iPhones in China through China Unicom and China Telecom, the nation's second- and third-largest carriers. Both companies offer subsidies on the handset that can reduce the cost to consumers.

Apple has yet to reach agreement to offer the devices through China Mobile, whose customers make up 64 per cent of the nation's 1.1 billion mobile users.

Bloomberg

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