Apple Closer to India Stores After Government Eases Curbs

What India's Relaxed Retail Rules Mean for Apple
  • A single brand retailer can get 3-year sourcing grace period
  • Additional 5 years possible for ‘cutting edge’ technology

Apple Inc. may be closer to opening stores in India after the government eased onerous local sourcing requirements on retailers.

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The world’s second-most populous country on Monday announced the easing as part of a raft of measures intended to boost foreign direct investment and expand the leeway afforded multinational corporations. It loosened policies that require retailers to source at least 30 percent of their components locally before they can set up shop.

Apple is pushing to increase its share of the world’s fastest-growing major smartphone market as device sales slow elsewhere. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook visited the country for the first time in May and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to outline his ambitions for the burgeoning arena.

Under the new regime unveiled Monday, single-brand retailers have a three-year grace period in which they can operate stores, before they have to comply with the local sourcing requirement. Companies that can show they are selling state of the art or cutting edge technology can benefit from a relaxed local sourcing regime for “another five years.”

The government hasn’t ruled on whether Apple meets the cutting edge criteria. Apple didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the government’s decision.

Apple will now have to apply anew for permission to open its first stores in India, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters Monday. The Cupertino, California-based company has used flagship stores in New York, Tokyo and Shanghai to promote its products and boost sales, but in India it sells through partners such as Redington India Ltd. as well as the retail units of Indian conglomerates Tata Group and Reliance Industries Ltd.

“The relaxed rules give Apple a window to build up a credible brand and gives the company a chance to build up internal capability and familiarity with the supply base,” said Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer of Third Eyesight. “For branding, a certain consistency is critical and this can be done by having retail control.”

India is a challenging market because of the iPhone’s premium pricing. It now has less than 2 percent of an Indian market in which four-fifths of phones cost less than $150. The iPhone maker had sought permission to become the first company allowed to import and sell cheaper refurbished phones into the country, but was said to have been rejected.

Still, Apple’s sales there jumped 56 percent in the March quarter, indicating that demand for the brand is growing. Cook called out the country’s “incredibly exciting” prospects during his last earnings conference and said his company will devote more energy to that market. Apple’s stores have always played a key-role in attempts a convey a unique image and feel for its products.

“It gives Apple more branding and positioning strength. Having a direct presence will help it gain more mindshare,” said Vishal Tripathi, an analyst at research firm Gartner. “It can help create a well-fashioned brand in the Indian market.”

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