As in much of Southeast Asia, smartphones made by Samsung and a short list of Chinese brands dominate the Vietnamese market. They have enough specs, from cameras to screen size that users want. They run on Google’s familiar Android system. And they cost less than an iPhone. That’s all ideal for a developing country.
Over the years, several Vietnamese companies have tried to grab a share of their own increasingly prosperous market but found little traction. The foreign brands had come in before Vietnam’s own could get started.
But this year, Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup aims to overtake some of the Chinese brands. Its phone unit will seek that lead by giving Vietnamese consumers a roster of sought-after specs, keeping prices around USD100 per phone and marketing them offline in ways that foreign brands would have trouble matching.
The conglomerate owned by Vietnam’s richest man, Pham Nhat Vuong, saw its smartphone share surge after initial sales of its Joy 3 model on February 14, says Vsmart deputy CEO Tran Minh Trung. The company sold 12,000 phones in 14 hours, Tran notes, because consumers liked the localized features.
Tran’s firm had a 6% market share as of the end of 2019, lower than the market leader Samsung at 32% as well as behind Chinese brands Oppo at 23%, Vivo with 11% and Xiaomi at 9%, tech market research firm Canalys calculates. Fellow market research firm IDC gave Vsmart a 12.4% share in the fourth quarter of last year, compared to Samsung at 29.9% and Oppo at 19.1%. It says about 5 million phones sold in Vietnam that quarter.
Aggressive offline sales work in Vietnam could raise Vsmart’s domestic share as high as 15% this year, Canalys mobility analyst Matthew Xie says. About 85% of sales in Vietnam take place offline, he estimates.
But Vsmart can “leverage” Vingroup’s other lines of business for marketing, he says. Vingroup runs a wide network of malls, convenience stores and resorts and housing developments in Vietnam. The vendor had already distributed 100,000 phones free to people living in Vinhomes-brand properties.
Price is another push point. Vietnam, despite its quick economic growth since 2012 and a booming middle class, remains a market where entry-level phones priced around USD200 command about 67%, Xie says. He added that composition makes it feasible for Vinsmart to start from entry-level devices production and upgrade into premium device manufacturing step by step.
Joy 3 phones start at USD98 apiece. They come with Snapdragon 632 processors; 6.5-inch screens a three-rear camera cluster system with an 8MP selfie camera. Vsmart has previously offered “pricing schemes” for phones priced at less than USD150 but comparing in specs to its Chinese competitors, Nguyen says.
Vsmart must use pricing schemes to catch the competition, says Lam Nguyen, managing director with IDC Indochina in Ho Chi Minh City. To that end, it has joined the Vietnamese Ministry of Information and Communications smartphone “universalization” program by offering handsets for 500,000 Vietnamese dong (USD21.60) apiece in exchange for wireless packages and preinstalled apps, Nguyen says.
Tie-ups like that one should help Vsmart build an “ecosystem” aimed at netting and keeping customers, Nguyen says. It’s also working toward a “partnership” with domestic telecom firm Viettel, the Hanoi Times reports.
Vsmart hopes to work more closely with Google, too, Tran says. The pair would “strategically” look for ways of using Android-powered operating systems in wireless-controlled devices such as television sets, he says. The duo has already started on TVs.