China / Business

China's Transsion handsets outsell Samsung in Africa

By Ma Si and Pan Zhongming (China Daily Africa) Updated: 2017-02-19 15:24

Shenzhen manufacturer's affordable devices prove popular, dominate fertile market

Transsion Holdings, a Shenzhen-based smartphone maker few Chinese have heard of, is securing the jewel in the crown of the mobile world - the African continent, one of the most promising mobile arenas in the world.

Transsion has already grabbed 40 percent of the African market, beating out much bigger opponents like Samsung Electronics and Huawei Technologies.

Tecno and itel, two brands owned by Transsion, took the third and first spots, respectively, in the African mobile market in the third quarter of 2016, data from technology consultancy Counterpoint Technology Market Research showed.

China's Transsion handsets outsell Samsung in Africa

Two Nigerian women take a selfie with a Tecno smartphone made by Transsion Holdings, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer. Provided to China Daily

In the first half of 2016, Transsion shipped 32.9 million handsets to overseas markets. In comparison, the number for Huawei, the world's third-largest smartphone maker, was 25.4 million units.

Transsion was the first Chinese smartphone vendor to explore the African market. It also built the world's first smartphone plant on the continent. Its success highlights how little-known Chinese firms are conquering overseas markets by leveraging China's sophisticated manufacturing capacity and their experience to fight for survival in the domestic market.

Stephen Ha, general manager of Tecno, says: "We started to zero-in on the African market as early as 2008 after the competition intensified in China."

That was a time when the continent was almost forgotten by most big international brands. The lack of competitive local players also leaves a gap in the market for Transsion to fill.

The company quickly gained popularity through its dual-SIM smartphones.

Ha says: "We noticed local consumers wanted to have two SIM cards, but most of them could not afford two handsets."

Jessie Ding, a Shanghai-based smartphone analyst at consultancy Canalys, says what really helped Transsion secure dominance was its efforts to stay local in Africa and the management team's abundant experience in overseas markets.

Zhu Zhaojiang, founder and CEO of Transsion, has been in the smartphone industry for nearly two decades. Before setting up Transsion, he headed up overseas business for a domestic firm and had traveled to more than 90 countries to explore opportunities.

Ding says: "Such experience gives Transsion an advantage in dealing with Africa's highly fragmented retailer landscape. The team knows what local businessmen want and how to build trust."

Instead of relying on telecom carriers to sell handsets, Transsion set up its own retailing network in more than 30 African countries. Abdirahman Mohammed, a phone dealer based in Nairobi, Kenya, is one of them.

Mohammed says: "Transsion phones come in many varieties, with three brands covering the low, middle and high-end markets. Tecno is one of the best sellers in my store." He sells 70 to 100 Tecno phones every month and earns roughly $5 per phone.

To build up its reputation, Transsion has carried out an aggressive advertising campaign rarely seen in the African market. The strategy also increased local retailers' reliance on Transsion, as retailers were able to cut costs by piggybacking on the phone maker's advertising.

In 2011, Transsion set up a smartphone plant in Ethiopia, the first one on the African continent, to help speed up product delivery and lower costs. Now it is working on a new plant in Nigeria.

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How a small firm is set to charm the continent

Transsion has set up two R&D centers, one in Nigeria and one in Kenya, to offer tailor-made smartphone features for its African customers.

Making dark skin shine in selfies

Everyone in the world loves selfies, and African customers are no exception. But it can be difficult for them to have good pictures, as darker skin makes it hard for many cameras to recognize faces. To solve this problem, Tecno smartphones locate a consumer's face by focusing on teeth and eyes. It has performed data analysis on African users' face shapes, colors and preferences of photo effects to determine how much extra light exposure is needed to lighten up the photos.

SIMply better

Because of the poor telecom infrastructure in Africa, consumers prefer dual SIM cards to ensure effective telecom signals, but most people can't afford two handsets. Tecno is one of the first brands to launch dual-SIM-card phones in the market.

Social networking

Distinct from markets that are already dominated by smartphones, the African continent is still in the transition from feature phones to smart handsets, with the former accounting for a more than 60 percent of market share. It is important to cultivate consumer loyalty to ensure that they will opt for the same brand when upgrading their handsets, observers say.

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