Global smartphone recession confirms consumer downturn

Consumer demand

SHARE THIS STORY


Q3 smartphone sales data show the global market in recession, as Strategy Analytics confirmed:

The global smartphone market has now declined for four consecutive quarters and is effectively in a recession.

The warning signs began in Q1, when the market plateaued for the first time, as discussed here in May:

“The global smartphone market has finally gone ex-growth as China’s slowdown continues. In turn, the market is starting to polarise – with Apple pushing further up-market whilst Chinese brands such as Xiaomi focus on volume. Samsung’s middle market positioning looks increasingly under threat.”

The chart highlights the key issues:

  • Samsung’s market share has declined from a third in 2013 to a fifth today, as its mid-market positioning leaves it without a clear value proposition for consumers
  • China’s Top 3 players have meanwhile soared from just a 12% market share to 29% today, powered by their low-cost positioning
  • Apple’s market share has remained very stable, as it has focused on the top end of the market, prioritising price over volume
  • “Others”, also usually without a clear value proposition, have seen their share drop to just 36% from a peak of 46% in Q3 2016


China remains the world’s largest smartphone market, with 103 million phones sold in Q3. But its volume was down 8% compared to Q3 2017, as the stimulus programmes continue to slow. As the Counterpoint chart shows, the market is now consolidating around a few winners:

  • Huawei are emerging as the market leader with a 23% share
  • Vivo and Oppo remain key challengers at 21%
  • But “Others” have dropped to 13%, and Samsung has almost disappeared at just 1%

As Counterpoint note, the top 5 brands now hold 86% of the market:

“The Chinese smartphone market is saturated with accelerated market consolidation. The competition in 2018 is almost a zero-sum game for the top five players. It is challenging however, even for the leading brands to create clear product differentiation. In Q3, only Huawei and vivo managed to achieve positive YoY growth among the top 5 brands.”

Meanwhile, of course, Apple continue to dominate the premium segment after the launch of the new iPhones in September.

This divergence between low-cost and premium will no doubt spread across the rest of the global market as the downturn continues.  And the main growth is likely to be in the low-cost area.

India, for example, saw volume grew 5% versus Q3 2017.  But with average per capita income less than $2000, price is all-important.  Reliance Jio’s ultra-low pricing strategy has been critical in making bandwidth affordable, and there are now over 400 million smartphone users in the country.

But iPhone sales are actually falling, and will be down by a third to just 2 million this year.  Functional phones in the $150-$250 price segment are driving sales growth, via online sales.  Q4 is expected to see these grow 65% to reach 50 million, due to their 50%-60% discounts.


The smartphone market thus continues to confirm that the BabyBoomer-led SuperCycle is over. As the chart shows, this created a new and highly profitable mid-market from the mid-1980s:

  • Before then, companies had competed on the basis of price or perceived value
  • But from the mid-1980s onwards, the mid-market became the most profitable sector
  • Now, with the Boomers retiring and stimulus programmes ended, we are going back to basics again

Instead, the market is segmenting again on the basis of price or perceived value. Chinese players compete on price, while Apple focuses on profit and is moving up-market. this means that previously profitable market leaders such as Samsung are slowly disappearing along with the mid-market segment that they supplied.

These very different strategies highlight the new world ahead for consumer markets and those who supply them.

PREVIOUS POST

Chemical output signals trouble for global economy

04/11/2018

Q3 smartphone sales data show the global market in recession, as Strategy Analyt...

Learn more
NEXT POST

Your 'A-Z Guide' to the Brexit Negotiations

18/11/2018

Q3 smartphone sales data show the global market in recession, as Strategy Analyt...

Learn more
More posts
Trump’s auto trade war adds to US demographic and debt headwinds
06/08/2018

President Trump’s auto trade tariffs are bad news for the US and global auto industry, as the ...

Read
Plastics recycling paradigm shift will create Winners and Losers
17/06/2018

My new analysis for iCIS Chemical Business highlights the paradigm shift now underway in the plasti...

Read
Apple, Xiaomi squeeze smartphone mid-market as sales plateau
06/05/2018

The global smartphone market has finally gone ex-growth as China’s slowdown continues.  In tu...

Read
2018 will see Winners and Losers appear in plastics markets
01/04/2018

Two major challenges face petrochemical and polymer producers and consumers in 2018: The likely disr...

Read
Goodbye to “business as usual” model for plastics
18/03/2018

Polymer markets face two major challenges in coming months. The most immediate is the arrival of t...

Read
West’s household spending heads for decline as population ages and trade war looms
11/03/2018

As promised last week, today’s post looks at the impact of the ageing of the BabyBoomers on t...

Read
Global smartphone sales slide 9% in Q4, as China tumbles 16%
26/02/2018

Global smartphone sales have seen major growth until recently as consumers fell in love with going m...

Read
Older workers are looking for something more
22/02/2018

The Financial Times has kindly printed my letter arguing that we need new policies to help people a...

Read

Market Intelligence

ICIS provides market intelligence that help businesses in the energy, petrochemical and fertilizer industries.

Learn more

Analytics

Across the globe, ICIS consultants provide detailed analysis and forecasting for the petrochemical, energy and fertilizer markets.

Learn more

Specialist Services

Find out more about how our specialist consulting services, events, conferences and training courses can help your teams.

Learn more

ICIS Insight

From our news service to our thought-leadership content, ICIS experts bring you the latest news and insight, when you need it.

Learn more