In the span of just a few years, we’ve had numerous relatively unknown brands make names for themselves in the international smartphone market. Names like Xiaomi, Vivo and OPPO are carving a piece of the international market, finding solid footing in their homeland of China.
Last year, we discussed how in this smartphone landscape, mass beats class, with the exceedingly pricy premium brands such as the iPhone losing market share quarter after quarter as budget phones catch up in terms of specs.
According to market intelligence firm International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker for Q1 2019, Apple’s mobile phone shipments dropped to 36.4 million units, representing a staggering 30.2% decline year-on-year. The yearly release of increasingly expensive iPhones did not help the company’s case.
Meanwhile, companies like OPPO and Huawei have been biding their time, building up their consumer bases over the years. Today, three Chinese smartphone manufacturers rank in the top 5 brands with the highest mobile phone shipment volumes in the world (6 if you count OPPO in, which tied with Vivo for market share, but lagged behind in terms of shipments over a mere 100,000 devices).
OPPO’s rise to fame
Today, OPPO is a Chinese smart phone powerhouse, ranking second in terms of mobile phone shipments in mainland China during Q2 2019 with more than 200 million consumers worldwide. However, this wasn’t always the case.
Developing mobile phones since 2008, the company finally enjoyed its breakout success in 2016, with its R9s flagship device going on to become the best-selling Android smartphone in the world during Q1 of 2017, according to data by Strategy Analytics. Offering high spec devices for a much cheaper price than its rivals, OPPO had discovered a winning formula its local rival Huawei had been utilizing to get the one-up on Samsung and Apple.
Another part of OPPO’s strategy for success was its focus on physical stores.
Unlike Xiaomi or Huawei, the company relied on a nationwide network of 200,000 stores to sell its products, OPPO Vice President Alen Wu told Forbes Asia in a 2016 interview. Only 5% of OPPO’s sales come from online channels, which are more like showrooms for its devices, according to the company.
“From 2011 to 2013, we were confused,” Wu says. “We tried to build up our e-commerce channels and studied consumer habits and the business models of the online brands. Then we realized that most of our customers would still like to experience the phones first. So in 2012, we continued to focus on offline.”
Nicole Peng, a research director at market research firm Canalys, told Forbes during 2016 that Chinese stores were also more motivated to promote OPPO’s products, as the company paid the “most competitive” commission rate to sales people compared to the industry standard.
OPPO also resorted to celebrity and event sponsorships to improve the visibility of the OPPO brand.
MENA expansion and innovation
OPPO is now making inroads into the Middle East. It opened up its second regional hub within the UAE this January, making Dubai its new center for operations in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.
This month, it launched its Reno Z flagship device in Saudi Arabia, retailing at SAR 1,549 ($413). Equipped with a Sony IMX 586 48MP camera and packing 8Gb of RAM, it offers a high-spec alternative to the $800+ flagships of competitors.
Looking to innovate more than just the smartphone field, OPPO recently published a concept design patent for a foldable smart watch.
Clouds on the horizon?
While the company has been enjoying its fair share of success, recent data reveals a decline in shipments.
IDC’s aforementioned Q1 2019 data shows that the company’s global shipment volumes decreased 6% year-on-year, reflected by a six-quarter consecutive decline in the international market. OPPO shipments in China suffered an 18% drop, with the Chinese market mirror the global market in its general decline in shipments. Their market share also suffered.
The ongoing US-China trade war has done OPPO no favors, with the semiconductor industry caught in the mix.
The impending widespread launch of 5G, though, looks to shake up the industry, and could provide the adrenaline shot the market needs – as long as manufacturers provide 5G-enabled devices.