Monday, 30th October 2017

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OnePlus on its offline drive and what’s making users from competing brands switch over

'We need to make people more comfortable with the brand and there is a crowd that will discover the brand through our offline stores'

By Mathures Paul in Calcutta
  • Published 8.01.20, 6:01 PM
  • Updated 8.01.20, 6:01 PM
  • 4 mins read
  •  
The OnePlus Experience store on Park Street Picture: Rashbehari Das

Last week, smartphone brand OnePlus showed the world a new prototype phone – OnePlus Concept One in which the camera lens on the back of the phone sits under a special glass. The tint of the glass changes when the glass is triggered by an electrical signal. This happens when the camera app is in use and at other times the camera seems to vanish.

While the disappearing act was being promoted prior to CES 2020 in the US, Vikas Agarwal, OnePlus India’s general manager, was about to reach another milestone here in India — another OnePlus Experience Store opening, this time a 5,000sqft swank address in Calcutta’s Park Street. The company’s offline expansion is helping the brand find new customers in the premium and ultra-premium categories. Here’s what Vikas told t2 over coffee.

Vikas Agarwal, OnePlus India’s general manager
Vikas Agarwal, OnePlus India’s general manager Picture: Rashbehari Das

Why is OnePlus putting more emphasis on the offline market?

We have just completed five years in India and now have reached a stage when the brand is more confident. We have learnt a lot about the Indian market, about preferences, with some great results. We are already number one (in the premium smartphone segment in India) and a large part of it is because of our online presence and our partnership with Amazon. Early last year we also started our offline expansion and the idea was to understand the requirements and tastes of customers who are not shopping online. There are a lot of people who even though they like to shop online but they would like to experience the product. Being present in the premium segment, customers do like to see our products. Now with expansion into a category like TV it will be more important. We need to make people more comfortable with the brand and there is a crowd that will discover the brand through our offline stores. OnePlus also has a partnership with chains like Reliance and Croma where we have our own promoters. As soon as more people discover the brand through offline stores, they will help our business online. Online sales, of course, is still growing; it is now about cannibalising sales.

Will we see the OnePlus TV at the experience centre?

The OnePlus TV is still sold only online on Amazon and offline at Reliance; we are not even selling it at our stores. In future, of course, it will be available through more sales channels. TV is a more expensive and involved purchase. TV is something you buy when you need it, unlike smartphones. TV sales will be more stable. With smartphone, sales peak around launches or festivals. There have been new learnings for us with the TV; OnePlus buyers are comfortable with our new product. Our partnership with content creators is also going strong. Netflix is now available on OnePlus TV. We are probably the only brand which has been able to bring Netflix in two or three months of a category launch. This was a challenging project. Then we have Amazon Prime Video because of our strong partnerships. Besides the anchor content providers, we have Eros, Hungama, Zee and a lot more are coming your way.

Can you tell us about the design concept followed by OnePlus stores?

There is a consistent design language. The biggest one which is coming up will be in Bangalore, which is going to be around 30,000sqft, almost five or six times the Calcutta store. It will have a similar design, we are not tweaking it. I saw the one in China, which is almost similar. The theme and the experience are going to be the same everywhere. India is the first market where we have expanded offline, so India is likely to play the lead when we decide to expand offline in other markets, though that is not currently on the cards. Here we are learning every day.

Mouni Roy at the launch of the Calcutta store
Mouni Roy at the launch of the Calcutta store Picture: Rashbehari Das

Some experience stores of big brands have programmes that teach to maximise the usage of its products. Are you looking at something similar?

It’s a direction we will take. We have done ‘Tech Talks’ at OnePlus stores and a couple of other formats but we don’t have a structured programme at the moment because we are in the process of setting up these stores. But there will be some large-format stores that will act as a hub for community activities. So the 30,000sqft store in Bangalore will allow such events.

Last year you had quite a few phone launches, compared to only one a few years ago.

It was a decision that had to be taken. We were not present in the ultra-premium segment, yet there are so many people who are looking to have more phones from this category. We want to operate in a particular segment and in the future it would be more challenging because there will be a lot of developments on the 5G front. At some stage one had to take the call about the products that need to be made. There is value proposition with OnePlus. The 30-45K segment will continue to appeal to the core OnePlus community and the 45K-plus segment is for those who want to have a more premium experience or want to switch over from competing brands. After entering the ultra-premium segment we are seeing a lot of users from other brands switching to OnePlus.

Do you think people are looking at their smartphones fewer times and focusing more on other devices, like the smartwatch?

We don’t see any challenge to smartphones as a product category. Last year we launched the TV and this year let’s see if we can launch something more. Audio is a category we are already present in.

Is the Chinese market very different from the one in India?

In terms of user preferences there is a significant overlap between India and China but there is a big difference from the US and European markets. Say the camera. People in the US and Europe prefer images that are more natural whereas here it’s different. This means the cameras need to be optimised differently. From business perspective, Indians are more emotional while China or the global market is business-oriented.

What are your goals for 2020?

The goal is to strengthen the brand in terms of affinity with our users. A major focus is on offline expansion and then other key focus areas are on the R&D side. At some stage we will start local manufacturing for TVs. We are strengthening our teams. We keep hearing about the slowdown across industries. At OnePlus we are bullish on India. We are hoping to maintain our growth in 2020 and expand our team. The budget we have committed just for R&D is Rs 1,000 crore. In three to five years OnePlus will be a brand everyone would be able to resonate with, a brand users would be able to confidently suggest to others.