The quiet rise of Vivo in India
Grabbing market share, rather than headlines
“It’s bloody odd! We are talking about the best phones of the year, but there is no Vivo device in there. And the brand is number three in India. Interesting, isn’t it?”
That was a remark made during a tech awards ceremony by one of the jury members while discussing the award for the best phone in different price segments in the Indian market. And the person was spot on – most of the categories were dominated by the likes of Xiaomi (Redmi), Realme, OnePlus, Samsung and in the odd case, Oppo. There was hardly any mention of Vivo, the brand which is the undisputed number three in the Indian smartphone market. And has been growing at an impressive rate.
Indeed, talk to most people – and not just the tech “experts” – about the major smartphone brands in India and it is a fair chance that three names will come up: Xiaomi, Samsung and Realme. A few others names like Oppo and OnePlus might also be mentioned and those with a sentimental streak might also invoke Nokia and Motorola, but it is a fair chance that one brand will either not be mentioned at all or will not come right at the top of most people’s minds. This is very odd when you consider that it is actually one of the top three phone brands in the country and according to some analysts might even replace the mighty Samsung as the second-largest smartphone brand in the Indian market.
And yet, 2019 has seen the Chinese brand quietly consolidate its position as one of the leading players in the Indian Smartphone market. I say “quietly” because whereas the likes of Xiaomi, Samsung and Realme (and even Oppo to an extent) have had their share of high profile device launches in 2019, Vivo has actually been much quieter. In fact, of the top brands in the country, it is the only one which did not try to even launch a “budget flagship” in 2019 – a zone in which Xiaomi, Realme, Oppo, and Samsung tried their luck, especially as OnePlus showed signs of becoming more “premium.” Vivo instead adapted an even more brave strategy. The brand bet very heavily on the mid and lower-mid segments of the market, a segment that was already dominated by the likes of Realme and Redmi.
Many people would have considered that move suicidal. After all, that was the range dominated by Realme and Redmi, both of whom have bestsellers in the Rs 5,000-15,000 segment. In fact, these two brands have so many devices in this segment that there almost seems to be no space in there for any other. Established brands like Nokia and Motorola have struggled to break into that segment, and those like Asus that managed to make some space for a while failed to sustain their momentum.
Vivo, however, has managed to find a place in the zone. And stay there!
The brand has mostly focused on Rs 7,000-20,000 price segment over the past year and a half. Its last relatively high-end offering was perhaps the Nex, which got positive reviews but by all accounts did not exactly set sales records, and was largely overshadowed by the OnePlus 6 series and the Poco F1. The period since seen Vivo stick mainly to the sub-Rs 20,000 zone, although there have been devices like the Vivo V17 Pro, Vivo V17, V15 and V15 Pro, which have ventured north of Rs 20,000, but there has been no attempt to take on the OnePlus mantle of flagship killer or even provide a budget flagship option. What the brand HAS, however, managed to do is carve a very significant niche for itself in the sub-Rs 20,000 segment, with the S and Y series and more recently with the budget gaming-oriented Z series and the recently launched U series, both of which mimic the Redmi-Realme formula of offering some very decent (mid-segment) specs at surprisingly affordable prices.
And that formula has yielded rich dividends. Dividends so rich that the brand which had sold 2 million units and had a market share of 6.67 percent in Q1 2018, shipped 7.1 million units and had a market share of 15.2 percent in Q3 2019 (IDC figures). In fact, 2019 has seen Vivo growing consistently, albeit not as spectacularly as Realme – the brand sold 4.2 million units in Q1 2019, and was at 7.1 million units at the end of Q3 2019. Yes, some were quick to point out that Realme was not too far behind at 6.7 million units, but others also pointed that Samsung itself now was in Vivo’s sights at 8.8 million at the end of Q3 2019. Some analysts have even stated off the record that barring a major recovery from the Korean giant or a slip up by Vivo itself, they expect Vivo to be the number two in the Indian smartphone market by Q2 2020.
Many attribute the brand’s strong performance to its formidable offline presence. “Many Indian consumers are still uncomfortable purchasing online, and while Vivo’s devices might be perceived as being a little more expensive than similar specced ones from Realme and Redmi, they are available in the stores. They are also impressive performers and while they do not get talked about as much, Vivo invests heavily in offline displays and has Aamir Khan as a brand ambassador. These things make a difference to offline consumers,” a retailer told us.
Vivo’s rise is remarkable because it has been achieved by good old fashioned marketing and general overall consistency, rather than any spectacular offerings. The brand has not got into any competitive battles with others, has not promoted any of its executives as being super cool, hasn’t gone over the top on social media and has not even indulged in any crazy spec battles like claiming to be the first with so many megapixels or so many cameras or even with a big, fast charging battery. In fact, it seems very content to be chugging along at its steady rate even while its rivals try to ascend lofty heights. It has not attempted to directly confront any of the best sellers in the market, but has instead seemed content to grab a chunk of what the top sellers do not get.
And that chunk is a significant one.