Range a flash in pan or smartphone winner?
RJ VAN SPAANDONK should have known by late yesterday afternoon whether his social media-only flash sale launch of a brand new smartphone range to this country has worked.
Last Friday, smartphone fans were invited to register an interest to take part in a flash sale (like a flash mob), becoming the first adopters of the Xiaomi Mi4 and Redmi 2 handsets ahead of their official launch in selected stores today.
The enthusiasts were given a follow-up message yesterday at 2pm, giving them the offer to buy the handset of their choice, after which it would be delivered by courier – and paid for at the door.
“It’s very useful,” says Van Spaandonk, “to gauge demand and allocate stock” – both critical with product launches and invariably problematic with the wrong stock being sent to the wrong centres on nothing more than a whim.
The concept was used with great success during his new company Mobile in Africa (MIA)’s inaugural product launch in Nigeria. After South Africa, the next one will be in Kenya, targeting the three key economies on the continent.
The flash sale approach is lifted straight out of the Xiaomi playbook – cut out the middleman and make good smartphones available to the public as close to cost as possible. It’s been used in China, India and Singapore. It worked extremely well in Lagos, where the formal retail sector doesn’t exist, he says, because of the incredible congestion on the roads, making shopping as we know it almost impossible. Instead, e-commerce is booming.
Van Spaandonk’s rationale for moving on to found MIA after more than a decade at Apple distributor Core Group, latterly as executive director, was part personal: “I’m a brand builder and an entrepreneur and Core had become an established business, present in 14 African countries with a team of more than 800.”
His other reason was strategic: identifying the trends in the cellphone industry, particularly on the continent and moving to meet them.
“South Africa has a 20 percent contract rate in the cellphone market,” he explains, “the rest of the continent is zero, the phones are bought for cash up front and very few in Africa can afford smartphones.”
The smartphones that are available are either high-end and only available through contracts, or cheap and nasty with unresponsive operating systems and consequently bad user experiences – much like drivers of Eastern European cars had in the early 1990s after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Xiaomi, he hopes, will change all that, targeting both the gap in the market and creating a market in the gap. “This is the first design and innovation-driven Chinese company in the luxury space that is truly affordable,” he enthuses. It took the company five years to traverse the same ground that Apple took 30 years to cover, he offers as proof.
Known by its fans as the Apple of the east, Van Spaandonk claims Xiaomi should rather be seen as a combination of Apple, Amazon and Google, as it blends e-commerce, Google values and Apple’s build quality. The android-based handsets are made in the same factory that produce the Apple iPhones and have generally garnered rave reviews in tech magazines across the world.
The Redmi 2 being sold in the country will have double the storage of the usual model, at 16GB. The Mi4 will be available at a retail price of R3 799, considerably cheaper than equivalent smartphones with the same specs, dual SIM, LTE-ready.
The Redmi 2 has a 4.7-inch HD screen run on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad core 1.2GHz processor. It also has an 8-megapixel rear camera with an f/2.2 aperture for lowlight photography.
The flagship Mi4 has a 5-inch HD display powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz processor. Its rear camera is 13MP with an Æ’/1.8 aperture for even lower light work and an 8MP camera in the front for the selfie crazies.
And, if you weren’t an early adapter, a Generation Y or a Generation Z, you can get an Mi4 the traditional way – on a 24- month contract.