October 28, 2019
Until recently, buying an Apple product in Mumbai might have meant standing on a noisy street corner, haggling. That’s how Tohib Jagrala has been selling his gray market iPhones in a Mumbai suburb for six years — from a small roadside stand. Rows of phones are neatly arranged in a small display case. His stall is jammed against a snack shop serving platters of Mumbai street food (vada pav, samosas, and sweets) off a main road in Khar West. Honking cars and rickshaws swerve to avoid pedestrians just steps away from his establishment, which caters to local buyers eager to get their hands on affordable and trendy smartphones. Here, a customer who bargains aggressively can take home an iPhone 11 for about ₹60,000 ($845), roughly $70 cheaper than the ₹64,999 ($919) at an authorized Indian reseller, but still more expensive than the same model in the U.S.
Jagrala sources his iPhones from online channels or from one of the four main gray market hubs in Mumbai; his favorite is a sprawling shopping complex at the city’s midpoint called Heera Panna. These phones are shipped in from places like Hong Kong and Dubai, collected by dealers, and sold unofficially (though not illegally) at thousands of markets across the country. Older models are sold at steep discounts, and new, hard-to-get models are sold at a premium.
For now, Jagrala is happy with business, but he’s carefully following news that broke across Indian media in late August: after years of negotiations with the Indian government, Apple (who did not respond to requests for comment) will open its first physical stores and official online portal in India in coming months, possibly displacing roadside stands and other gray market businesses like his.