Smartphone Adoption Ramps in India as Diwali Becomes Top Shopping Holiday

By Aman Bansal, Flurry Analyst

Earlier this month, more than one billion people in India as well as expatriates across the world celebrated the festival of Diwali. Best known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali is marked by family gatherings, fireworks and prayer, and is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India. Over the years, the weeks leading up to Diwali have become the most important holiday shopping season in the country with people splurging on gadgets, clothes, appliances, jewelry, and more. And because of this willingness to spend, annual sales are now part of the holiday celebration, making Diwali a battleground for OEMs in the region. In this report, we review how smartphone sales surged during this increasingly important shopping event in India.

Pandemic Impact on Smartphone Sales

According to a recent survey conducted among Indian consumers by YouGov, an online market research firm, respondents indicated that they would spend less this Diwali holiday season due to financial hardships caused by the pandemic. While they indicated they were hesitant to spend on most categories, they cited buying a smartphone as an exception. This bodes well for smartphone manufacturers as they vie for consumer attention in the world’s second largest smartphone market. Let’s review how the major OEMs in India performed during the weeks leading up to Diwali.

Increase in Smartphone Activations During Diwali

In the chart above, we report the growth in new devices during Diwali for the top OEMs selling smartphones in India. We compared the devices activated during holiday sales from October 16 through November 14, to the devices activated in the preceding thirty days, September 16 through October 15. All of the top OEMs achieved at least a 50% increase in device adoption, with OPPO driving the most growth at 88%. This increase can largely be attributed to the holiday deals run by the retailers, in addition to people upgrading their smartphones as they’ve increased their screen-time during the pandemic.

Chinese OEMs Dominating New Device Sales in India

Despite recent political tensions between India and China, including calls for a boycott of Chinese products, Chinese manufacturers such as Xiaomi, vivo and OPPO continue to gain unprecedented share in the Indian smartphone market. 

Market Share Captured During Diwali 2017 - 2020

In the chart above, we compare the share of smartphone sales by OEM during the week leading up to Diwali for each of the last four years. The combined market share of the Chinese manufacturers (Xiaomi, vivo and OPPO) increased from 28% during Diwali holiday season in 2017 to 63% during this Diwali in 2020. While Chinese OEMs have expanded share in the Indian market, Samsung--the world’s smartphone leader--has seen its share steadily decline over the years. That said, overall smartphone sales this Diwali were 38% higher than last year’s sales. This expanding market results in net unit growth for Samsung, but should be a concern for their long term market position.

Holiday Deals Eclipse Direct Sales from Apple

As shown earlier in this report, Apple experienced a 73% increase in device shipments in the weeks leading up to Diwali. However, Apple’s overall share in India remains below 2%. Apple had no physical or online retail presence in India until launching the Apple Store online on September 23rd, 2020. For the first time, this enabled people within the country to buy directly from Apple, as well as receive customer support, financing and various trade-in options. Before Apple’s online store launched, people in India could only buy Apple products through authorized resellers or third-party websites such as Amazon or Flipkart. Creating a presence in India underscores the importance of India as an expansion market for Apple. Let’s take a closer look at the impact of the Apple online store launch and annual holiday deals on new iPhone device activations.

Holiday Deals Beat Direct Purchases Through Apple

In the above chart, we show new activations by day of Apple iPhone devices: iPhone 11, iPhone XR, and iPhone SE. Note that we exclude the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro which launched in India on October 30 but were neither discounted nor saw a resulting lift in sales. Across the chart are two distinct periods. On the left, we show the period between when Apple launched their online store and the beginning of holiday sales leading up to Diwali. And on the right, we show the device activations from the beginning through the end of the holiday sales period.

In India, significant deals are offered during Diwali by companies like Amazon and Flipkart. Charting when these deals began on October 16, we see that Apple device activations spike significantly as soon as the deals begin. Compared to buying an iPhone directly from the official Apple website, a consumer could find discounts between 10% - 30% through these third party retailers. This shows that consumers will bypass the official channel for the purchase of an iPhone device if they receive a sizable enough discount. As a result, consumers in India may be more price sensitive than in other markets.

The size of India’s market, combined with a smartphone penetration of just 32%, make it among the most high-potential growth opportunities on the planet for smartphone manufacturers. Despite the effect the pandemic has had on the economy in India, smartphone sales continue to soar which we believe is a harbinger of a robust mobile ecosystem in India. We’ll continue to monitor smartphone and related adoption trends in India, and keep you updated about any important developments. Be sure you subscribe to the Flurry blog and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for the latest reports on the mobile industry. 

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