As competition heats up, here's how Samsung plans to defend its turf

Topics Samsung

India’s quick adoption to 4G and cheapest data prices provide the company an opportunity as well as a challenge to roll out products that help the consumer use technologies such as internet of things in their daily lives
Since the time it entered the Indian market in 1995, Samsung Electronics has played the premium card to secure its position as the top durables manufacturer in the country. But as the premium market expands and many more global players with cutting-edge technology throw their hats in the ring, how is the Korean company gearing up to justify its premium tag?

Samsung identifies “Indianisation”, compelling innovation, reduced consumer grievances and imparting better product knowledge as areas it has worked on in the past few years. Together, these factors have differentiated the company from the competition and have ensured maximum bang for the extra bucks consumers put in in its range of products — from stronghold panel televisions to the more recent entrant air purifiers, says Raju Pullan, senior vice-president, consumer electronics, Samsung India.

The Indian consumer durables market is pegged at Rs 63,000 crore with half of it being premium (Industry sources, November 2018). Samsung, by the virtue of being the market leaders in two of the biggest categories — television and refrigerators — and also in microwaves, claims it is the overall market leader. While it has dominated the television category for the past 13 years, the company ended the last quarter of FY18-19 as the number one in refrigerators, says Pullan.

He also advises to read beyond the numbers and points out to Samsung’s presence in categories to which people will move after upsizing. “For instance, in television, consumers are swiftly moving from 32-inch screens to the 40-plus inches category. Also, previously consumers were looking mainly at HD products, of which we have a large range, but we have moved to the UHD and QLED segments where growth is happening much faster than before; in fact, it was more than 40 per cent in those segments in the last financial year. The trend was visible for the past two-three years,” he says.

While Samsung has been adding more products according to consumer demand, it also feels it has delivered on the innovation front for better value to consumer. “The family hub or the large refrigerator is priced in the range of Rs 2.5-2.75 lakh and we were surprised to see the demand for it. Despite the high price, our research says, consumers look at this product not because of the capacity but because of the convenience these products deliver,” says Phullan. The company also credits the new financing schemes in the market for helping consumers upgrade faster.

The company has also been mindful of the specific Indian needs while introducing new products. “The ‘masala dry’ feature in some of our microwave ovens is very specific to India. Similarly the flex washing machine has been made keeping in mind that in India people like to hand scrub their clothes. In refrigerators, again, the consumption patterns from east to west and from north to south are very different, so we launched the 5-in-1 refrigerator with different load sizes. For example, in north India the consumption of non-vegetarian food is low, so they need less of freezer area while in other parts it is just the opposite.”

Two weeks ago, the company unveiled its new range of smart TVs saying they are about “unboxing magic everyday”. “This comes from a lot of Indianised consumer insights. For instance, many Indians use their television systems to play music. So we have a TV that offers loud and better sound to double up as a music box, has specific features to shuffle and make playlists and even play music with the screen switched off. There is another called PC on demand as in many Indian households the father usually carries the family’s one laptop to office and comes back too late. So this feature helps the kid who is at home and has computing needs to complete his homework. The television can be used as a computer where the projects can be completed by the kid by getting into the Microsoft browser. The demand for air conditioners with copper condensers is very high in India. So we have added more such products in our range so that adoption in consumer households increases.”

Even after two decades of presence, India remains an emerging market (EM) for Samsung, albeit the biggest EM globally. India’s quick adoption to 4G and cheapest data prices provides the company an opportunity as well as a challenge to roll out products that help the consumer use technologies such as internet of things (IoT) in their daily lives.

So how would the much awaited advent of 5G networks alter the game? Pullan says the IoT-based benefits are being offered in televisions from the 32 inches model onwards. Earlier only a select few television sets had it. “After acquiring voice assistant Bixby we have been using it in many of our devices. We have something called the smart hub which seamlessly connects all Samsung devices. This talks to the fridge, locates the missing products after scanning with in-built cameras and can even place orders on delivery apps sensing supply needs. You can even instruct the machine when to start washing clothes from a remote location. Within the 5G realm, things will speed up further,” he says.  

Phullan claims that “consumer feedback on concern points have gone down drastically” in the last three-four years not only because of the efficacy of its many service centres but also because of the remote access service where the consumer can call and the solution or the knowledge is provided over the air.

Siddharth Shekhar Singh, associate professor (marketing), Indian School of Business, opines that value creation and value extraction are integral to generate a premium positioning and over time, Samsung has been able to hold on to this quality. Trend watchers also say that while the smartphone market has been getting tougher for Samsung, in consumer electronics a true challenger, like some of the Chinese phone companies, is yet to emerge.  

Moving ahead, the company aims to strengthen its market share in categories where it leads and intends to become number one in the fully automatic washing machine category where it is currently at number two. Air conditioners is one area where the company admits it has a lot of catching up to do. “In television as a category, we are at 30 per cent and plan to take it to 35 per cent by the end of this year. In the UHD, 4K segment where we have 35 per cent, our intent is to take it to 40 per cent,” Pullan says.

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