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Samsung Electronics

Samsung plays ‘hard to get’ to get Chinese phone buyers hooked

Pre-order period for new S8 and S8+ models open until May 24, with customers only able to reserve between 10 and 11am, with a 99 yuan deposit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 2:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 10:43pm

Samsung has officially kicked off pre-order sales for its latest flagship Galaxy S8 smartphones in China, as new research data suggests the South Korean technology giant’s sales more than halved during the first quarter of the year in the country, as its hangover continues from last year’s massive product recall.

The pre-order period lasts until May 24, and requires consumers to make a 99 yuan (US$14.35) as deposit at a Samsung retail store, or online via e-commerce platforms, Tmall.com, JD.com and Suning.com.

The start of advance bookings for the S8 models is a month later than in South Korea, where pre-orders for it and its larger model exceeded 1 million units in just 10 days from April 7.

The company is trying to play a typical industry “hard-to-get” tactic in China this time, said analysts, as it will only offer very limited numbers of handsets for pre-sale, as well as restricting taking early bookings to between 10 and 11 am until the May 24 deadline.

On Tmall.com, they started for the S8 and S8+ on Wednesday, and that day’s allocation of around 1,000 were sold out in minutes. Only 124 of the 6 gigabyte memory S8+ were made available for advanced booking on Tmall.com on Wednesday and Thursday.

So-called such “hunger” marketing-led product launches had become routine for smartphone makers. Competitors including Xiaomi and Smartisan have also just launched their latest models, said Wang Xiaofeng, an analyst from Forrester Research.

But the latest Samsung offering hasn’t managed to create as much as a buzz on social media and other news sites as its Chinese counterparts.

“Hunger marketing alone isn’t enough anymore, because the smartphone market in China is extremely competitive. Engaging with customers on an ongoing basis and building customer relationships and loyalty are key,” said Wang.

“Its Chinese competitors have been investing on social media, brand community, influencer marketing, and sponsorship of popular online and TV programmes, but we haven’t seen the same level of effort from Samsung.”

Samsung recalled 190,000 Galaxy Note 7 handsets in China last year, after a dozen were reported to have suffered exploding batteries. The company initially refused to recall the handsets, but eventually gave in after fierce criticism by consumers.

Samsung’s smartphone sales in China more than halved to 3.4 million units in the first three months from 7 million units in the same period last year, according to latest research from Strategy Analytics on Tuesday.

Its China market share has been slashed from 6.7 per cent to 3.1 per cent, dropping it to eighth place nationally from sixth, Strategy said.

Wang added that consumers also have more choice than ever before in China, and said it is likely to be some time before the Korean firm regains previous levels of customer trust and loyalty.

IDC senior market analyst Tay Xiaohan added he was not that optimistic about the S8’s prospects in China, as more consumers have now moved onto other brands, be they Chinese vendors or Apple.

“It may be hard at this point for Samsung to regain influence in the high-end smartphone market given its brand is no longer one of the most popular in China,” said Tay.

Samsung is scheduled to officially launch the Galaxy S8 in Beijing on May 18, with the first batch of smartphones expected to be handed over to Chinese customers on May 25.