Ruble Trouble: Apple Shuts Down Online Sales in Russia, Before it’s Forced to Do So

Apple announced online sales in Russia will stop due to the ruble’s volatility. Indeed, the Russian currency has taken a blow recently as it plummeted to an all-time low against the dollar.

The Russian Apple online store has been taken offline while prices are reviewed and commercial activity on iPhones, iPads and other Apple products has been halted.

But how did Apple went from more than $1 billion in sales in Russia in 2013 to pulling out in 2014?

Tim Cook, 2013: “Our activations in Russia for iPhone set a record last quarter — our highest quarter ever. We’re really happy.”

The Gold Putin iPhone, a really shinny gadget.
The Gold Putin iPhone, an object of desire for any oligarch. Source.

In 2013 Apple failed to reach an agreement to local mobile operators so it went straight to retail chains and selling online. It didn’t go too bad. iPhone sales doubled to 1.57 million units. After seeing huge spikes in demand, the local operators finally gave in and agreed to Apple’s terms. Nevertheless, almost 80% of all sales came directly from retail, skipping carriers.

So basically Apple sold $800 million worth of unsubsidized products without any help from local carriers, a surprisingly good result for the Russian market. “We’re really happy“, said Tim Cook in 2013.

Yes, the ruble drop may be a problem for Apple. But why close the store? Why block sales? Why not just switch to foreign currencies only? Why leave such a huge market? Sure, Russia is struggling with an economic a crisis but on a smaller scale – so is Europe. You don’t see Apple stopping sales there.

It may be that Apple was bound to leave Russia anyway and it figured this is the best moment to do so without worrying investors.

What happens in Russia, stays in Russia

Starting January 2015, Russia will pass a law forcing tech companies to keep Russian users’ data in Russia. That means Apple will have to move some of its servers to Russia and keep them there.

Now this is obviously an unacceptable situation. With tensions between Russia and the US, privacy and data security concerns will force the company outside anyway.

It may be that the ruble collapse is the best Apple can go about a bad situation: leaving a billion dollar market and still look like its saving the day.