Yes, it is a good phone. It has great specs. It is well designed and looks good. And even the price is a good one. But the big question is: will ANYONE spend that sort of money on a Xiaomi phone in India? It is seen as a cheap brand.

The sneer was very clear (and regrettable) in that sentiment that was expressed by many experts and observers about Xiaomi’s efforts to get beyond the Rs 20,000 mark in the Indian market with the Redmi K20 series in mid-2019. The reason for their observation was simple – Xiaomi (and its brands, Redmi and Poco) was seen as a “low price, value for money” player. A brand whose devices would fare well in the mid and lower price segments. But not beyond that. As one worthy said, “Anyone with more than Rs 20,000 to spare would be crazy to invest it in a Xiaomi phone. They are more likely to go for a Samsung.

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A “cheap” brand? Oh me, oh Mi!

The sentiment for all its rationale had an almost caste-ist ring to it – a “how dare a Rs 15,000 phone brand make a more expensive phone and try to be premium” touch. It also reflected the mountain Xiaomi had to climb to make its presence felt beyond what was seen as its “core audience” – the one in the Rs 15,000 and below price segment. And a sample of just how tough this task could be was visible within days of the launch of the Redmi K20 series when a number of observers complained online that the Redmi K20 was overpriced at Rs 21,999 and Rs 23,999. Such was the level of hysterical outrage around the pricing that Xiaomi’s India head Manu Jain issued a statement trying to explain the price.

While the K20 series ironically (given all the hullabaloo around it) did reasonably well, it clearly did not remove the “Xiaomi is a low priced brand” perception in many quarters. And when Xiaomi released the Mi 10, the Mi 10T, and the Mi 10T Pro last year, the devices were again subjected to the “Yes, they are good but will anyone invest that sort of money in a Xiaomi device” tirade. In our piece on the challenge Xiaomi faced as regards more expensive devices in India, we had written:

The consensus in a part of the tech community is that Xiaomi does not have the “brand image” to command a premium for its devices. To be honest, Xiaomi itself sowed the seeds for this perception. When it launched the Mi 3 in India, its flagship device (although almost a year old), at a stunning Rs 13,999 in July 2014. The device was a staggering hit and got Xiaomi a lot of attention, something the brand really needed at that stage. However, it saddled it with a reputation of being a “cheap” brand, as some analysts chose to term it.

The Mi 10i and Mi 11X sell well

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That perception, however, seems to be changing this year. At least on the side that matters most – the consumer side. And the phone that seemingly broke the ice for Xiaomi was the Mi 10i. The phone had been launched at Rs 20,999. It took its share of flak for not having an AMOLED display and again for being priced on the higher side (anything that was priced higher than the Redmi Note was considered extravagant for Xiaomi in some quarters). The phone, however, surprised a lot of people by being Xiaomi’s highest selling phone in the early part of the year, running up revenues of Rs 400 crores in the first three weeks of its availability – that meant sales well in excess of 1,50,000 units, which was an appreciable number when you consider that the phone had to contend with the likes of the Nord and Samsung’s excellent M series devices.

Any thought that the Mi 10i’s success was a one-off was dispelled when Xiaomi claimed to have run up sales of over Rs 300 crores for its budget flagship Mi 11X series, comprising the Mi 11X starting at Rs 29,999 and the Mi 11X Pro at Rs 39,999, within 45 days of their launch. As one of our retail sources told us “Even if we assume that ALL the units sold were the base variant of the Mi 11X Pro, that adds up to almost 75,000 phones which is a terrific number at this price point when you consider you have Samsung and OnePlus in this zone.

Mi 11 Lite: the lightweight that got Mi into the premium middleweight zone

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In spite of this, there was a fair bit of cynicism in some quarters when Xiaomi launched its Mi 11 Lite device a week ago. Unlike the MI 10i and the Mi 11X series, which did deliver very good spec sheets at competitive prices (although considered high by Xiaomi standards), the Mi 11 Lite was very much a style-over-substance device. Its biggest attractions were its incredibly slim 6.8 mm frame and its weight of 157 grams. Its spec sheet was decent but hardly spectacular – and there were many who said that the lower-priced Redmi Note 10 Pro series was actually value for money than the Mi 11 Lite, which started at Rs 21,999. Of course, it also had to deal with comparisons with the OnePlus Nord CE, which was only Rs 1,000 more expensive but came with 5G and was a OnePlus.

When Xiaomi’s Manu Jain claimed that the Mi 11 Lite was more about design and lifestyle than specs, the sneers were out again, complete with the “who would buy a Xiaomi device for style” remarks.

One week after the launch, Xiaomi claims to have registered sales worth Rs 200 crore with the Mi 11 Lite. That’s again well over 75,000 units sold even if we were to consider only the higher-priced variant of Rs 23,999. And this against competition from the likes of the OnePlus Nord CE, which incidentally has also been said to be doing well (although OnePlus has not spoken officially about it).

A quarter of a million phones above Rs 20,000 sold (at least)

Let’s add those numbers up – even if we consider only the sales of the Mi 10i for the first three weeks, the sales of the Mi 11X for the first 45 days, and the sales of the Mi 11 Lite for the first week, Xiaomi has run up sales of Rs (400 + 300 + 200) = Rs 900 crores in terms of revenues and (75,000 + 1,50,000 + 75,000) = 3,00,000 units (more than a quarter of a million units). And all of it has been in the segment above Rs 20,000. In fact, a significant chunk of it (the Mi 11X series) is in the segment above Rs 25,000. Do keep in mind that these are figures from only very small chunks of time. The overall figures could be much higher (if anyone has them, we would be delighted to see them).

Of course, these figures are not in the same zone as those for its lower-priced phones, but that is a rationale that can be applied to any brand (barring Apple and, to an extent, OnePlus) – the vast majority of phones (almost 70 percent) sold in India are below Rs 15,000 (almost ninety percent of phones sold are below Rs 20,000). The average price of a phone in the country is around Rs 13,000. No matter how you look at it, Xiaomi has made significant inroads into the segment above its “traditional core area.”

Not yet a premium player, but getting there…steadily

Now, it would be premature to say that this means that Xiaomi has shaken off its reputation as being a “low price” brand, but the numbers cannot be denied either. At the very least, Xiaomi has moved up the perception ladder from being mid-segment to upper and maybe even premium mid-segment. And given the sort of rabid hostility the Redmi K20’s price attracted barely two years ago, that is no mean feat. Some say that the decision to move the Mi brand into a more premium segment while leaving Redmi and Poco to battle it out for mid-segment honors has yielded rich dividends for Xiaomi.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that with the impressive sales of the Mi 11 Lite, Xiaomi seems to have taken a big step towards solving the premium phone puzzle in India. A lite-weight has confirmed its entry into a region beyond the middleweight segment. Will it be able to carry this momentum to higher price points or hang back and consolidate its presence in this new zone? Only time will.

But as of now, the answer to the “who will invest more than Rs 20,000 in a Xiaomi phone in India” query has been given. And it reads, “more than a quarter of a million people.” Yes, some will continue to splutter in outrage on social networks), but as a retailer told us (it is a quote we used and is worth repeating):

“Twitter pe sale nahin hota hai, bhai sahab. Yahaan hota hai” (“Sales do not happen on Twitter, sir. They happen here.”)

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