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Samsung: Revamps its strategies to defend its leadership position

April 10, 2017
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The Indian smartphone market is set to become the world’s second largest in terms of user base, surpassing the US by end-2017. India has been witnessing strong growth in handset sales at a time when there is a slowdown in the global market. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), India registered 109.1 million units of smartphone shipments in 2016, a growth of 5.2 per cent over 2015.

South Korea-based handset vendor Samsung has held the leading position in the Indian smartphone market for several years. However, of late, the company’s mobile business has been suffering and its profitability is declining because of increasing competition. During the quarter ended December 2016, Samsung reported a handset market share of 25.1 per cent, a 13.1 per cent sequential decline as compared to the previous quarter. On the other hand, the share of China-based vendors increased to around 46 per cent during October-December 2016.

While Samsung’s leading position is not likely to change any time soon, it has started losing ground to its rivals. In order to arrest this decline, the company is trying to revamp its strategies on several fronts.

Counting on semi-premium range

Earlier, Samsung was focusing extensively on its super-premium phones, falling under the Rs 45,000-plus segment. However, now the company is counting on the semi-premium range (Rs 25,000–Rs 35,000) to improve its sales. The shift in strategy could be a result of the Note 7 fiasco, which compelled the company to recall and exchange the device in 2016. As a result, Samsung is now focusing not only on the premium flagship models, but also on low-end and mid-end phones. The semi-premium range has become the key focus area for the company in recent months since Chinese brands such as Vivo and OPPO, which cater to this segment, have performed well in the past few years. Besides, industry experts feel that apart from the super-premium end, the only other segment that can result in good profit margins is the semi-premium market since price realisations are fairly good. Therefore, major players like Samsung can maintain their brand equity without having to compromise too much on price. According to industry estimates, around 4 million smartphones sold in 2016 were in the semi-premium segment.

In the past few months, Samsung has not released any new high-end model. However, its super-premium segment is not unrepresented given that the S7 Edge, a one-year-old model is still doing well in the market. The phone was adjudged the best phone of 2016 at the recently concluded Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Meanwhile, in February 2017, the company came out with a new series called “C Series” in the Rs 30,000-Rs 35,000 price range. These phones have been positioned between the company’s flagship S series and the mid-segment A series.

Greater thrust on online sales

Samsung is trying to consolidate its position in the online space where it lags behind players such as Xiaomi and Lenovo. According to Counterpoint Research, for the quarter ended December 2016, Xiaomi had the highest share of 24 per cent in online smartphone sales, followed by Lenovo-Motorola (22 per cent) and Samsung (19 per cent).

While online sales account for a quarter of the total smartphone sales in India, it still is an important channel. Through this platform, companies are able to reach a wider audience as compared to brick-and-mortar stores. Moreover, companies do not have to share their profit margins with various distributors or dealers, nor spend on promotions at retail stores. Most Chinese brands, which have flooded the Indian market in recent years, have made a mark by selling their phones online.

In order to boost its online sales, Samsung launched its online-only phones under the “On” series in 2015. These handset models are priced under Rs 20,000. Recently, the company relaunched its six-month-old model A9Pro at a new price-point of Rs 29,900. It was earlier available for Rs 32,490. This phone will only be available online, in an attempt to increase sales from online channels. To this end, Samsung has formed a dedicated team to focus on its digital sales.

Going forward, the company is expected to continue with its “exclusive online model” strategy for e-commerce platforms.

Foray into the digital payments space

Leveraging the digital payments wave, Samsung has launched its mobile payments platform “Samsung Pay” in India. The service is currently open for registrations through the official Samsung Pay website.

Samsung Pay supports both near field communication and magnetic secure transmission for making payments. The transactions made through Samsung Pay entail three levels of security: fingerprint authentication, digital tokenisation and Samsung KNOX. KNOX is an Android-based solution specifically designed to enhance the security features of the phones.

Samsung has collaborated with Axis Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, State Bank of India and Standard Chartered Bank for Samsung Pay. It plans to bring more banking partners on board in the near future. Samsung Pay also allows users to make payments using the Paytm wallet. The compatible devices for Samsung Pay are Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, Samsung Galaxy A7 (2016), and Samsung Galaxy A5 (2016).

While independent wallets, operator-backed wallets and bank-offered wallets have already established their presence in the digital payments space, Samsung will be able to leverage its captive customer base. Hence, the company is likely to perform better than other players who have to burn cash to acquire customers.

However, Samsung will face competition from other handset players, which have already launched their mobile wallets or are planning to enter the space. For instance, domestic handset vendor Micromax launched its mobile wallet Udio in April 2016. Micromax has signed a three-way pact with digital payments provider Visa for enabling mobile payments using QR code scans and a PIN at retail stores across the country; and with Mumbai-based payment technology platform provider TranServ, which will embed the wallet in the vendor’s smartphones.

Meanwhile, Xiaomi launched its payments service called Mi Pay in September 2016. This was the company’s first major foray into financial services. Mi Pay is only available in China right now, but the company plans to launch the service in India as well. The real competition for Samsung Pay will, however, come from Android Pay as it comes preloaded in handsets based on the Android 4.4 or higher operating system. Samsung smartphones will therefore be preloaded with both Samsung Pay and Android Pay, and the company will have to distinguish itself for customers to choose the former.

In another move to facilitate digital payments, Samsung has launched the Galaxy Tab Iris that comes with the iris-recognition technology. The device can be authenticated using an Aadhaar card through an integrated and highly secure biometric device. It can be used for banking and e-governance services such as passport, taxation, health care and education.

Focus on after-sales service

In October 2016, Samsung announced a unique service initiative for consumers across India. The move involved the launch of 535 new service vans to reach customers and resolve their problems immediately. Each van will be equipped with a diesel generator and key fixtures, and have a multi-skilled engineer for providing quick response and on-the-spot resolution of complaints. Samsung has added over 250 service points and over 250 resident engineers in its team.

The new initiative takes Samsung’s total touch points to over 3,000, helping it strengthen its service network.

Making early inroads into 5G

Samsung has been focusing on 5G research and development for nearly half a decade. At the Mobile World Congress 2017, the company showcased its 5G-compatible commercial products, including a 5G home router, 5G radio base station and 5G modern chipsets. The pre-commercial deployment of some of its 5G products is already under way in the US.

The company has also announced a partnership with Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (RJIL) to bring 5G technology in India. Meanwhile, the company has announced its innovative “Infill and Growth” project for RJIL that will help expand both the operators’ current network capacity and network coverage. The project will extend RJIL’s services in rural areas by expanding its reach to over 90 per cent of the population and enable seamless indoor and outdoor coverage in dense urban areas by helping the operator optimally utilise spectrum in the 850 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz bands.

Future outlook

In sum, Samsung has definitely been impacted due to the growing competition in the smartphone space but has somehow been able to maintain its edge over other players. It will have to continue innovating smartphones and developing new technologies, and targeting niche segments to sustain growth and strengthen its market position.


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