The Kenyan mobile phone market is one of the fastest growing on the African continent and as such, very competitive. To survive in Kenya means to develop a thick skin. To be ready to take anything head on and to always watch your back since newer mobile phone brands enter the market every other day. It is even harder when your focus is just smartphones. As much as everyone will eventually own one, it’s still a long journey to get there and every brand has to pull all stops to make sure it is the customer’s top pick.
One brand that has over the last two years successfully managed to hack the Kenyan smartphone market is Infinix. Go back three years ago at around this time and you won’t find any reference to Infinix in Kenya. Yet today, it has grown to become a dominant smartphone brand that many people, especially youth to whom it appeals a lot to thanks to its shiny and stylish smartphones, can easily identify with.
To better understand what Infinix is, what it stands for and the story behind its phenomenal growth in the Kenyan market, I sat down with Infinix Mobility’s country director for Kenya, Mr Carter Tang.
According to Mr Tang, Infinix’s growth as a smartphone brand in Kenya has been courtesy of the youth, its approach to the budget smartphone segment and constantly factoring in feedback from its users which eventually informs the company’s next course of action.
Infinix will be releasing the Infinix Zero 4 later this year
Through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, occasional fan gatherings and its online forums, Infinix is able to gather feedback from users of its devices that is readily passed on to its product teams in China to inform decision making pertaining to upcoming products. Such products include a new smartwatch which Infinix has been teasing for a while now and will be unveiling in coming months. Another such product is the upcoming successor to the Infinix Zero 3, the Infinix Zero 4. According to the local Infinix boss, the Zero 4, unlike the current Zero 3, will be available in several variants so as to be able to better target its customers and provide more variety in the market while still trading at between Kshs 20,000 and Kshs 30,000.
Infinix has also been leveraging on peer networks to grow its brand reach and attract new customers. It uses what it calls loyal users to engage new users on its online forums and provide direct answers to queries that are being raised without the direct involvement of its teams. According to Mr Tang, this is crucial since such interactions build trust amongst customers.
Factoring in user feedback seems to be an approach that Infinix will not be abandoning even as it grows both in sheer size as a company (staff, engagements et al) as well as in its scale of operations. With the company definitely in the running to unseat local rival smartphone brands if it keeps this momentum it has built over the last two years which range from established ones like Samsung to new power players like sister company Tecno Mobile, Mr Tang is optimistic that they are on the right track.
So what next when Infinix finally gets to the head of the smartphone class?
Infinix is keen on not just getting more and more people to use its smartphones but also on keeping them. Something which can be very hard given the mixed sentiments on social media about Infinix smartphones and Infinix as a brand that can be associated with quality products. As it actualizes its dream of conquering the Kenyan smartphone market, which could take a few more years to be honest, Infinix hopes to have higher customer satisfaction levels as well as establish even more channels through which its users can communicate with the company and the brand.
Infinix has a strong presence in several African countries besides Kenya including Egypt and Nigeria, which are some of the most industrialized and advanced African economies. One thing all these countries share with the global Infinix brand presence which stretches from as far as Indonesia to the Middle East is Infinix’s choice of online platforms as key sales channels.
By using online sales channels, Infinix is able to gain more insight about its customers and properly tailor devices to meet their needs.
Like Xiaomi in Asia, Infinix in Africa is one of the few smartphone brands that have a wider online sales channel presence and is actually seen to be making some strides. According to Jumia Kenya, Infinix was the bestselling smartphone brand on its platform in 2015, something its country boss attributes to its efforts to reach out directly to customers without involving middlemen. The end result is timely sales since no time is wasted and the devices are delivered to customers directly from its production facilities in Shenzhen, China. The other outcome is that Infinix is able to keep prices of its devices low, something that is very crucial if one is to survive in the Kenyan market.
Despite having a huge online presence, Infinix is also making sure that its smartphones are available in offline sales channels as well. At the moment, the company is in talks with Safaricom, the biggest mobile operator in the country, to avail a new smartphone that will see the Infinix brand make a reappearance in Safaricom’s expansive network of retail shops. Infinix has previously partnered with Safaricom to push two devices: the Infinix Alpha Marvel and the Race Jet 4G.
Even though Infinix’s online sales channels have been successful, it is the maximum leveraging of offline channels by established rivals that is keeping it on its toes
It is the well-established offline retail sales networks of its competitors that have proven to be Infinix’s biggest headache, as they’ve given it a run for its money and are still the most trusted by Kenyans. This is irrespective of the fact that younger Kenyans tend to be more open to shopping online.
I raised the issue of the perceived quality of Infinix smartphones or lack thereof with the Infinix boss and he was confident that the current processes the company has in place are adequate to guarantee quality output in the form of the devices which it ships to customers in Kenya and beyond. In his words, “smartphone quality is not based on just the materials used.”
As much as Infinix is gearing to launch a smartwatch, don’t get too excited about the brand branching from its core smartphone mission just yet. While the company definitely has an eye open for the smart device ecosystem, it still has the smartphone as its main focus. In the Kenyan market in particular, don’t expect to see an Infinix tablet any time soon even though Mr Tang tells me that they are definitely looking at it. He just could not commit to raising our expectations about an Infinix tablet any time soon.
Since Infinix is not committal about us seeing some tablets any time soon, what about feature phones? “You cannot do everything, sometimes you just have to focus on one thing,” was Carter Tang’s response.
Infinix has set some lofty targets for itself as it seeks to upset the status quo in the industry. According to the Infinix country director for Kenya, the brand has about 30% market share locally, a figure we cannot independently verify even though it doesn’t seem far-fetched.
Many have often wondered what relationship there is between Tecno and Infinix in Kenya and beyond. I put the question to Mr Tang so that he could set the record straight. “The two companies are owned by the same mother company, Transsion. However, they operate independent of each other.”
Here is the interesting part: if Infinix is to rise to the very top of the smartphone market in Kenya, it has to one-up its sister, Tecno, something the Infinix leadership in the country is very well aware of. It will be interesting to see if it will be able to do exactly that over the next few years. Sibling rivalry.