Chinese Smartphone Upstart That Beat Apple Is Now Venturing West

  • Vivo will soon sell gadgets in Russia, Singapore and Taiwan
  • Company among a new breed of brands exploring overseas markets

Duan Yongping

Photographer: Imaginechina

Vivo, the fast-growing smartphone brand backed by reclusive Chinese billionaire Duan Yongping, will begin selling to Western markets for the first time as it accelerates a global expansion.

Emboldened by its success against Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. at home, the company now intends to tackle developed markets with higher-end devices. In coming months, China’s third-largest smartphone brand will market its gadgets, which include the flagship V7+, in Russia, Taiwan and Singapore. The company launched the X20 in Hong Kong Friday and Africa is on the cards for early next year, it said in a statement.

Vivo is emblematic of a new crop of Chinese firms that’ve squeezed out foreign labels at home and have aggressively explored markets abroad. Vivo, which kicked off an overseas expansion via Thailand in 2014, built a domestic customer base by enlisting tens of thousands of retailers in rural areas and poorer cities where the competition was scarcer, a tactic that helped Vivo and counterpart Oppo -- another of Duan’s startups -- dethrone Apple in shipments.

Read more: Secretive Billionaire Reveals How He Toppled Apple in China

Vivo was founded in 2009 and, along with Oppo, came out of nowhere to squeeze out then-leader Xiaomi Corp. in the rankings. They eschewed e-commerce to instead court the physical stores where an estimated three-quarters of smartphone sales still take place, and packed high-end components into handsets that sold at a fraction of Apple’s. Vivo itself is known for its fast-charging devices with outsized batteries and memory. Today the company is ranked just below Oppo in Chinese sales and is an official sponsor of both the 2018 FIFA World Cup and India’s cricket league.

Entering Russia means facing off against Samsung and Apple, which together controlled close to half of the country’s market share in the second quarter, according to Counterpoint Research. And a number of Chinese brands have already made inroads before Vivo, including Xiaomi and Huawei Technologies Co., China’s No. 1 mobile name.

China’s big four smartphone makers -- Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi -- employ different strategies to infiltrate foreign markets. Huawei, which arguably makes the priciest and most advanced devices, is focused on consolidating its position in developed markets like Germany and Spain, where it’s made early inroads by selling networking gear. The rest have so far engaged in battle mostly in major emerging markets such as India and Indonesia, using affordable phones.

Read more: How Apple Lost China to Two Unknown Local Smartphone Makers

— With assistance by Yuan Gao

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