An Indian man talks on his iPhone in New Delhi in May 2016.
Apple has been having a rough time in India including the loss of three key executives as it continues to struggle to beat single-digit market share in the country, which is the third-largest market for smartphones in the world, according to a weekend report in Bloomberg.
The executives held key roles related to the expansion efforts of Apple’s business there, according to the report, and with their departure the whole Indian sales division is now being restructured. Bloomberg writes:
Among the executives who’ve departed are its national sales and distribution chief, the head of its commercial channels and mid-market business, and the head of telecom carrier sales, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. Apple’s Indian sales team is now undergoing a restructuring, one of the people said.
Bloomberg noted that Apple has long struggled in India due in part to high tariffs which inflate the price of their devices by as much as 20 per cent, leading many consumers to buy from mid-priced competitors like Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi or South Korea-based Samsung. To compensate, it manufactures some iPhones like the 6S in-country and remarkets older models there. For example, Apple is still pushing the iPhone SE for around $US375, which is still quite expensive for much of the local market.
This strategy appears to have yet to make much of an impact. Bloomberg writes that Apple only barely broke three million device sales last year, and appears that 2018 has seen even slower sales:
In India, where it has a market share of about 2 per cent, Apple sold just 3.2 million iPhones in 2017, according to Counterpoint Research. In the first half of 2018, fewer than a million devices moved, it estimates.
Earlier this year, however, Cook touted figures showing 20 per cent revenue growth in India for the January-March quarter, outpacing the company’s overall growth of 16 per cent. As the Economic Times noted, Apple seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place: It cannot expand its customer base in India without cutting prices, but cutting prices would undermine its long-term “aspirational value, for which it charges the premium.” Cook further claimed that the growth of the Indian middle class would create new sales opportunities. (In other words, Apple is waiting for a market interested in paying too much for a cell phone to emerge).
At the time, Cook told investors, “There’s huge opportunities there for us and we have extremely low share in that market overall… And so we’re putting a lot of energy there (in India) and working with the carriers in that market and they’re investing enormously on LTE networks and the infrastructure has come quite a way since we began to put a lot of energy in there, because of their leadership.”
“iPhone India sales were weak in the first half of 2018 and, even if they show a big jump in the traditionally strong second half, Apple will still fall short of last year,” Counterpoint research director Neil Shah told Bloomberg.
Bloomberg noted that Apple has had similar problems elsewhere in Asia, like China, which is now Apple’s second-largest market. Apple broke an 18-month sales slump in China in October 2017, though it may have largely been due to customers upgrading. Sales in China have since perked up on the popularity of the iPhone X, according to CNBC, though Apple remains potentially vulnerable to retaliation if the ongoing US-China trade war continues to escalate.