Xiaomi plans to launch more premium phones and other devices under the Mi label in India. Though the brand already has its presence in the country, thanks to the wide range of Mi products available here, from Mi TVs to Mi Band, its flagship phones have been conspicuously missing from the market.
“Going forward in 2020, we will push more from the Mi sub-brand,” Raghu Reddy, Head of Categories at Xiaomi India told select media at a briefing in Delhi, adding that the focus won’t be on just premium phones under Mi, but also on more premium Mi TVs and products in newer categories under the brand.
Xiaomi India will reorganise teams in a way that Mi will get its dedicated set of resources; sub-brand Redmi will continue with its own team. This is how it is in China now.
More Mi Premium phones
Mi has of late emerged as Xiaomi’s premium brand with focus on high-end specifications and design. As Redmi phones got an aggressive sales push with new devices nearly every six months, the company didn’t appear too keen to promote Mi phones.
The last flagship Mi phone that came to India was the Mi MIX 2 back in 2017. Before that the company had introduced its flagship Mi 5 in the Indian market, but it was not a commercial success. Since then, the Mi 6, Mi 7, and subsequent Mi flagship phones haven’t made their way to the India market. The only ‘Mi’ phones launched here has been under the budget Mi A series with its stock Android software.
“In 2020, Mi will try and start a new chapter. These efforts will be separate from Redmi. After all, the marketing for the Rs 6000 device will be very different from the one for a Rs 40,000 device. The approach will be different, both from a marketing and product perspective,” Reddy said.
And unlike Redmi phones, which are upgraded every six months, Mi has a more staggered approach with two major launches every year. While the Mi 10 is expected at MWC this February, the Mi MIX will launch somewhere mid-year. Xiaomi also has phones in the Mi CC9 or Mi Note series under this brand, also mor innovative phones like the Mi MIX Alpha, which sports a flexible OLED 4D display that runs all the way to the back.
For now, Xiaomi has already put out teasers for its upcoming Mi-branded phone in India, which sports a 108MP camera at the back and is expected soon. This is widely believed to be the Mi Note 10, which was launched in Europe last year.
Not about volumes
So why the shift in strategy, especially given that Redmi will still drives the bulk of volumes?
According to Xiaomi, the reason is the changing nature of the Indian smartphone market and their own offline growth.
In 2017, Xiaomi chose to focus on the Rs 6,000 to Rs 25,000 segment, given it accounted for close to 90 per cent of sales. But since then, the average selling prices (ASPs) of the smartphones have started to rise. The Redmi brand was aimed at tapping this segment.
“The reason why we are now considering Mi Premium flagships is because the market size is attractive enough for us to put in resources. We see people using their fourth, fifth, sixth smartphone and wanting to upgrade. There’s an increased demand in the market for devices in Rs 25,000 and above price points,” Reddy explained. This user, who is willing to upgrade is the one Xiaomi is hoping to tap with Mi.
Xiaomi’s growing offline presence is another reason. When it started in India back in 2014, this was primarily an online company, driven by flash sales. But now it has Mi Stores even in rural areas, and more than 75 exclusive Mi Home premium stores in the top 10 Indian cities. The company now has more than 50,000 employees across manufacturing, retail and service centres.
This countrywide distribution network also gives the company more confidence when it comes to pushing the Mi branded phones. Reddy admits that offline can help reach out to many more customers, and the touch and feel aspect available in these stores, where consumers will be able to experience the more ‘premium’ phone will definitely be an advantage.
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Still, Xiaomi knows that gains in the premium segment won’t result in an overall boost to its numbers. At best, this could add a one or two per cent growth to its existing share, which is close to 30 per cent right now in the market. But more importantly, the success of Mi could be a chance to finally prove that it can sell its more expensive phones, an area where it has struggled so far. In contrast, OnePlus has managed to carve a niche for itself in the premium category, taking on giants like Samsung and Apple in India.
Laptops and TVs and more
Reddy was also keen to press that the focus won’t be just on Mi phones, but also other ‘Mi-branded’ products like laptops and more expensive Mi TVs. So far, Xiaomi has restricted itself to the LED and affordable 4K TV segment in India, but that will change and new categories will be explored. “We will go beyond what you’ve traditionally seen Xiaomi do in the Indian market. Even with ecosystem products we’ve just taken baby steps.” Reddy said. The idea is to bring smart home devices, which are used multiple times a day.
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In China, Xiaomi has a whole range of products from washing machines to Mi laptops to more expensive Mi TVs. Its laptops, Reddy said, were one of the most requested from its fan base in India, and they would not want to ignore this demand anymore. Incidentally, leaks also claim that the Redmibook laptops could be making their way to India soon.
Slow-down in China
In 2020, Xiaomi will hoping to make more gains on its India success story, where it is facing increasing competition from the newer player Realme. Globally too, Xiaomi’s smartphone business has seen a dip.
In the third quarter of 2019, Xiaomi sold around 32.1 million phones globally as revenues in the smartphone business fell by 8 per cent. The 32.1 million was roughly one million units lesser than a year earlier for the same period. Numbers from research firm IDC showed that Xiaomi’s shipments in its home market of China were 9.7 million in the quarter, a nearly 30 per cent decrease from the previous year.
Xiaomi’s Chief Financial Officer Chew Shou Zi admitted on the earnings call that China market has declined and that they too have seen some pressure. But he was more confident that with 5G coming soon, they will see “significant improvement” in the smartphone market.
However in India, 5G services are unlikely to be rolled out before end of this year given the auctions have not even started. Anyway, the initial 5G phones are going to the flagship range only given the chipset configuration and pricing. That’s not lost upon Xiaomi executives. “5G chipsets are going to be way more expensive. We’re not sure if customers are willing to pay a lot of premium of it. I’m guessing it’s gonna be the case for everyone (brands), and the prices will go up,” Reddy said.