“Flipkart and Xiaomi today announced that this week’s entire Mi 3 stock was sold out in 5 seconds”

So begins a press release that arrived in our inbox a few hours ago. On the surface, this is very good news for both companies, and Xiaomi in particular. There is a lot of interest in its products and its strategy to rely heavily on social media and word of mouth rather than conventional advertising seems to have yielded dividends. The phone has won sparkling reviews (read ours here) and people have been literally lining up online to purchase it. It has been sold out twice, the first time in about 38 minutes, the second time in five seconds.

Those are pretty much the ingredients of a massive triumph, right?

Well, yes. And no.


Remember what the old folk say about too much of a good thing being bad for you? Well, to a certain extent, that is what has been happening with the Xiaomi Mi 3 in India. Statistically, it is awesome. About twenty thousand handsets sold from a single website in less than a total hour of being available – most companies would sacrifice corporate limbs for statistics like that.
The thorns that spoil this rosy outlook, however, are those that did not get the device. And by some estimates, that figure runs into a few hundred thousand. If we are to believe that, then for every person who got a Mi 3, there were about a hundred who tried to get one and could not. It was akin to queuing up for the show of a film for hours only to end up not getting a ticket and then being informed that there would be no more shows of the film for a while!

Ahem. Ouch!

For, this was not really a lottery or a special invite scenario. This was a proper sale of a device on an e-commerce site for which interested parties could register. They did register. In their thousands. And by most accounts, something like 99 per cent got zilch. Had this been a draw of lots or had there even been a prior declaration of units being very limited, perhaps the level of dissatisfaction would have dissipated but as this was neither, Xiaomi’s position has been rendered just a bit awkward – on the one hand, the sales of the Mi 3 in India have been staggering, on the other, the reactions of many of those who did not get the device have been verging on the hysterically abusive (as a sidenote, we really think comments need to be moderated on websites – some of the abuse is sickening).

It is not as if there have not been shortages of high-profile products before. We had a scenario when the gold edition of the iPhone 5s was sold out. However, Apple did not take flak because the product happened to be a hugely aspirational one and well, there was always another store to check out. The Mi 3 is definitely more mainstream and available from only one website. The result is that not only did more people line up for it, but more also felt aggrieved when they did not the product. “Hey, this was supposed to be the smartphone for the masses, so how come the masses cannot get it?” was how an irate friend snapped when his latest effort to get the handset went awry today. His reaction to the celebratory press release from Xiaomi and Flipkart on selling out the Mi 3 in five seconds was well nigh unprintable.

The fact that there is not much clarity as to when the next batch of handsets will be available – and for how long – has not helped matters. Even as this is being written, there are already people boasting about having been able to purchase multiple handsets and offering to offload them at a premium – never a healthy sign. And then there is the worst part of it all – a significant number of people might simply choose not to even try to purchase the handset the next time, considering it a lost cause.

All of which has actually detracted from what has been a rather impressive sales feat by both Xiaomi and Flipkart. While some might point to the success of the Moto G and the Moto E earlier this year (which were also Flipkart exclusives and were only available online), in those cases, the consumers were investing in a brand was of iconic proportions and was very well known in India. The quick sales of the Mi 3 are more impressive as this was a brand that was virtually unknown beyond the geek crowd.

It is not our place to advise Xiaomi about its business strategy or Flipkart about its logistics – both have exceptional track records in those departments. But what we can say is that both companies need to be a bit more open in their communication with potential customers, especially with regard to unit availability, to at least cushion any disappointments that may occur. It is a proven fact that a dissatisfied customer will complain more loudly than a satisfied one will praise. And it is the latter that Flipkart and Xiaomi have to win over. Judging by their numbers, that is quite a task.

It is no longer about whether you should buy a Xiaomi device, but whether you will be able to, even if you have the will and the resources. Ironic indeed.

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Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.