A decade of Chinese phone brands’ evolution in the Nigerian market

Just a decade ago and few years after mobile phones became common place in Nigeria, ‘China phones’ used to be regarded as fake or inferior brands. These (Chinese) phones some of the time had the same features as the more popular and highly regarded mobile phone brands but they were usually imitations and they came at much cheaper rates.

Nevertheless, many Nigerians embraced these phones because they were built with more features than the regular models of Nokia, Samsung, Ericsson, Siemens, Motorola and so on. For instance, Tecno was the first phone to possess dual SIM slots, television, radio, Chinese games, noisy ringtones, lack of internal memory, low picture quality, etc.

Ten years down the line, ‘China’ phones have evolved to compete favourably with their American, European and Korean/Japanese counterparts.
The likes of Tecno, iTel, Infinix, InnJoo, Huawei, Gionee and Lenovo have since ventured into the production of smart phones and are succeeding in it as three out of every five smart phones in Nigeria now is made by a Chinese company.

In 2013, Tecno Group laid the foundation for the building of its Phase III factory in Addis-Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The phone company which began operation in the Northern African country only seven years ago already has two factories there.

However, despite the success of its products in the Nigerian market, Tecno chose Ethiopia ahead of Nigeria because of what they described as the security challenges facing the country.

The good news, however, is that the phone company which started operations in 2006 is now set to establish Tecno’s biggest African factory in Nigeria. “Nigeria is our biggest market, followed by Kenya and Tanzania hence we desire to build something big right here,” said Mr. Attai Oguche, the Deputy Marketing Manager Tecno Mobile Nigeria.

The Vice President of Tecno Group, Arif Chowdhury, had previously said that the company was familiar with the African market. “Nigeria is our greatest market in terms of focus, because Africa is our major focus and Nigeria is like the capital of Africa. We plan to have a factory in Lagos. Without a plant, we cannot compete. We would do it. Tecno is Nigeria, Nigeria is Tecno. Apart from positioning to compete effectively, having a plant here is an avenue for us to give back to the country. It is a means for us to create jobs. When we work here, we would work with people here,” he said.

Their success in Nigeria has been attributed to bringing products needed by Nigerians. According to Mr. Chidi Okonkwo, the General Manager of Tecno Mobile in Nigeria, “We have our research and development team always around taking feedback from our users and we try to produce phones that are tailored towards what the Nigerian consumer needs. You will realise that our product is Africa/Nigeria centric, so that when you use our products, you will realise that they are truly made for the African market.”

Over the years, Tecno has focused its business on Africa and the South Asian market. However, following market research conducted in South East Asia, Africa and Latin America, the company found that Africa was the most lucrative region.

Generally, most new-generation Chinese phone brands come embedded with lots of features that are comparable to global competitors, yet at very pocket-friendly prices making it possible for Nigerians to have access to products that are able to help them to do whatever they want to do on their mobile phones.

These phones focus on the low-end market and low pricing has proven successful especially in the lucrative East and Western Africa Market.
In 2007, the company created a second brand, iTel, which also began to make headway into the African market.

Lenovo entered the smartphone market in 2012 and quickly became the largest vendor of smartphones in Mainland China.

On its part, Infinix initially launched their first smartphone in Africa in 2013, but they pulled their first line and made a crucial change of tact that saw Infinix Mobility re-enter the African market with a second and much more successful line that won over the Nigeria and Kenya smartphone market in 2015.

Infinix has since leveraged on the growing efficiency of e-commerce in Nigeria exemplified by the likes of Jumia and Konga which has made the buying of their products much easier.

According to Infinix, 70 percent of their sales are made online with only 30 percent sold through traditional retailers. Their focus on the youthful demographic with their low prices is in tandem with the demographic that is turning digital at an exceptional rate.


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