Xiaomi, the ‘Apple of China’, is launching in Africa with India as a good blueprint

“We came out of nowhere to give the big names a run for their money.”
“We came out of nowhere to give the big names a run for their money.”
Image: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker
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The so-called “Apple of China”, Xiaomi, made its name producing attractive, quality smartphones at affordable prices—and it’s bringing its unique blend of sharp design and slick marketing to several African markets next month.

Xiaomi’s success is largely tied to its simple, yet successful and marketing strategies: it sells its devices online—cutting excessive costs on distribution—and it also prefers not to spend on direct marketing, as it markets its products through social media, word-of-mouth marketing and its popular “flash hour sales”.

But Xiaomi is not the only smartphone maker betting big on Africa’s growing smart phone market. Last week, Google threw its hat in ring with the launch of its Android One handsets—priced under $100 and specifically tailored for emerging markets. As we have previously reported, affordable smartphones are driving the growth of Africa’s smartphone market.

Samsung, Nokia and BlackBerry have been some of the smartphone leaders in various major African markets but Xiaomi has previously proven that it can beat established players in established emerging markets. Its rise in its home market is a great example.

The India model

Yet for Xiaomi to thrive on the African continent, it needs not look beyond its success in India.

At the time of the smartphone maker’s launch in India in 2014, the ability of the company to replicate its success in China was questioned. Would Xiaomi be able to continue cutting costs by selling its devices online in a country with low internet penetration? According to World Bank data from 2014, only 18 out of 100 people have access to internet connectivity in India.

Despite this, Xiaomi has done well for itself in India. In partnering with Flipkart.com—an Indian e-commerce platform—the company claims to have sold 1 million handsets in India in just six months.

And it didn’t just rely on the Web. Earlier this year, Xiaomi partnered with The Mobile Store, a brick-and-mortar chain, to sell its handsets in 300 stores across India. It also announced earlier this month,  that it would partner with an Indian distributor, Redington, to make its smartphones available in retail stores in select cities in India.

Like the sub-continent of India, Africa could be a tough market filled with opportunity. While the company will follow its tested model of online sales—by setting up online stores in 14 African countries–it will need to match its online-model with offline stores, catering to customers with no access to internet and those unfamiliar with online shopping, similar to what it’s doing in India.