So at the time of writing, the OnePlus 3 is “out of stock” on Flipkart. However, the whole controversy over it going on sale in the first place has yet to die away. For those living on another planet, here’s a quick recap:
Flipkart announced on 16th December that it was going to make the OnePlus 3 available to its users on its Big Shopping Days, teasing a surprisingly low price.
OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei took to Twitter asking Flipkart’s Sachin Bansal “Brother, what’s this? We are exclusive to @Amazon_in.”
By the evening, OnePlus had issued an official statement: “We have an exclusive partnership with Amazon in India. We advise customers to purchase OnePlus products only through official channels as we cannot guarantee the authenticity of the products sold elsewhere.”
Flipkart did not respond with a public statement of its own, and its statements to different media houses seemed to indicate that the discount was being offered by participating sellers and brands, without naming OnePlus in particular.
It seems that the sale of the phone went right ahead with the device going out of stock in less than a minute (few seconds, in fact) – it was offered at Rs 18,999, well below the official price of Rs 27,999 being charged at Amazon.
The sale of the OnePlus 3 on Flipkart might be over (for the time being, anyway) but the whole controversy around it refuses to die away. If, as many people indicate, those who purchased the device from Flipkart will not get an official warranty or support, then one of India’s largest e-commerce players has in effect, acted as a “grey market.” The common definition for a grey market is:
“The grey market, also referred to as the parallel market, is a market where a product is bought and sold outside of the manufacturer’s authorised trading channels.” (courtesy: Investopedia.com)
We need to clarify that this is different from a black market, where the product is sold through illegal channels. In a grey market, you can get a product from a proper source, but one who is not authorised to sell that particular product. Flipkart is a legitimate e-commerce player but it was not authorised to sell the OnePlus 3. On the surface then it seems to have acted as a grey market player.
There will be those who will say that far too much fuss is being made of the issue – after all, did not the consumer end up getting a great device at an amazing price? (to see our thoughts on just how good the
OnePlus 3 is, check this) True that, but then they have obtained the product from a well-known source without warranty and official support. This is the kind of conduct that one expects from a small retailer desperate to make a sale, not from an e-commerce giant like Flipkart. To be honest, we are a little puzzled by Flipkart’s own silence on the issue, but the fact that it went ahead with the sale would make it appear as if it was on very solid ground – it would have hardly made the move otherwise.
There are of course also conspiracy theorists who suggest that all this is nothing but a publicity stunt to ensure OnePlus 3 get sold off fast, leaving the field open for its successor, the slightly more expensive OnePlus 3T. “If they wanted the sale blocked, they could have taken legal action. They just put out a few tweets and a formal statement,” an executive from an e-commerce company told us. “Yes, they warned customers But to be honest, they did not really make any attempt to stop the sale, did they?”
All said and done, the entire episode has left one with a number of unanswered questions, the biggest being if an e-commerce portal can openly sell a product that has an exclusive tie-up with its rival. An executive of another online-only phone brand feels that such moves could also harm commercial tie-ups, and even the reputation of e-commerce portals in general. “There is now going to be a tendency in some customers to wait and see if the product comes on another e-commerce portal for a lower price,” he said. “And then there will be those who will be unable to get support for their devices. And will, therefore, have a bad impression of shopping online. Yes, their numbers will not be very high. But online numbers as it is, are nothing compared to the offline ones. We cannot afford to alienate any of them.”
The biggest damage the OnePlus 3’s sale on Flipkart might have done is strengthening one of the myths about online shopping. There’s a very common perception that electronics goods sold online at surprisingly low prices are either refurbished or poor quality or of dubious legality. There had allegedly been a minor bust-up between some e-commerce portals and Microsoft before the Redmond company had officially launched its Surface series of devices in India when it insisted some third party distributors stop selling the Surface and its accessories online at lower than the official price and without official warranty. “You cannot buy a Microsoft product from a legal source without legal documentation,” a company executive had explained. Well, something akin to that seems to have happened with the OnePlus 3 on Flipkart.
Until it explains its stance officially, the perception in some quarters will be that Flipkart today acted as a grey market for the OnePlus 3. And that is something that the e-commerce giant or the online shopping market in India itself can ill-afford.