Interesting Things I Learned From Visiting Mobile Phone Retail Stores

I live in an area filled with smartphone retail stores: Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Vivo, OPPO, Motorola, etc. So I have the opportunities to visit those stores frequently and also have chances to talk to sales people and customers. It’s always a fun and educational experience, because I learn great insights about smartphones from speaking to those people.

Here are a few interesting things I learned from visiting stores and talking to people.

Design, display, camera, and storage matter a lot.

These are the four things that every sales representative mentions every time for almost every customer. Sales reps also mention battery volume quite often. It’s interesting to see when sales guy mentions design, they talk about a lot about material and color. They don’t talk a lot about 2D, 2.5D, elegant design, etc. I think for most the people in Chinese market, look & feel of a smartphone is the first and probably most important impression they care. The conversation about display is mostly around size. Even when people hold the phone in the hand, they seem still care about 5.9’’, 5.5’’, 6’’. This surprised me a little bit. People here care a lot about storage 4G RAM + 64ROM, 3G RAM+ 128ROM, etc. To be honestly, I don’t believe they would understand that. But the idea of “the more the better” strongly influence their purchase decisions. This also reflects that Android still has the challenges of “running slow after some time”, which is a opportunity for smartphone manufactures to tackle.

CPU doesn’t matter here.

Sales and customers that I’ve talk to rarely talk about CPU, for example, Snapdragon, MTK, Kirin, etc. Unlike Chinese consumers, customers in US have a strong preference for Snapdragon and that’s why so many devices shipped to US are using Snapdragon chipsets. This seems a little embarrassing. The CPU, which signifies ultimate performance of a smartphone, doesn’t do a good job of communicating the message of performance. On the other hand, performance in Chinese market is translated into large screen, large RAM/ROM, and big camera resolution (16MP, 12MP, etc)

The more features, the better.

This is how people in Chinese market interpret a good smartphone software. I asked a middle age man why he chooses Huawei over apple. And he said he cares a lot about camera and camera from Huawei is so much better, and it has a lot of things you want. iPhone, in his opinion, doesn’t have a good camera. He spoke vividly to me: “I used to use both Mate 8 and iPhone 6s. iPhone is so difficult to use. Believe me, a month later would be better days in Spring. You go out and shoot with Huawei and Apple devices, you will see big difference in the camera”. I know this is not true, but it is the market reality here.

People don’t appreciate simplicity.

Almost every smartphone maker in China claims they have a simple design from hardware to software. But I seriously doubt about this. They put many many features into the phone. This goes back to the mindset of “the more the better”.

There is a business user segment in China.

This actually surprises me a lot. I know BlackBerry long time ago targeted this segment with their Blackberry phone and security solutions. Since iPhone launched, this so called business segment almost disappear. On one hand, Apple, Google and Samsung have made the phone and software better and safer for each generation, and people usually don’t face the security issues. On the other hand, people bring their own device to work, and it’s really hard to separate your personal life and professional life. So I am very surprised that people recognize Huawei Mate as a business phone. Those people seriously believe that iPhone is built for young people, and Mate is a device for them. With this, I think Blackberry might have a chance in China. An interesting question is, is there a business user segment in oversea market? If so, what kind of smartphone they are looking for?

Market research verifies some of the observations

Brand preference by different user groups

This is a market research conducted in 2015. How to read the table. for example, Apple, The rich group 79(+44). this mean if you ask rich group which brand they would prefer when they buy a phone, 79% of users from that group would prefer Apple, and this number is 44% higher than the overall user group. Huawei, rich group 19(-13). if you ask rich group which brand they would prefer when they buy a phone, only 19% would prefer Huawei, and this is 13% lower than the overall group. In 2015, Huawei hadn’t launched Mate 8, P9, P10, so the brand name is not that strong, but Huawei is still very popular in “Pragmatic middle ager” group.

Xiaomi is very popular in “Young E generation”. Vivo attracts a lot white color people, insensitive followers. OPPO is popular among “Digital grass root” and “Young E generation”. This basically is in line with the subject observation.

=PS: The experience I mentioned here applies to Chinese market. Things would be a little different in oversea market, particularly in US.