Smartphone Portfolio Analysis: Less is More

At Counterpoint, we track sell-through volumes of more than 9000 active mobile phones SKUs every year for more than 500+ brands across 37 countries. This gives us a wealth of opportunity to do different analysis to identify underlying trends, correlations which should not slip of the industry radar. When we started analyzing the data and underlying trends for 2014 data, we observed that some of the fastest growing brands in 2014 were the ones with minimum amount of SKUs or transitioning to a leaner portfolio. for e.g.: Apple to Xiaomi to Motorola to Huawei’s Honor, Meizu or ZTE’s Nubia.

Revenues per SKU Insight Counterpoint

There is a stark correlation from growth perspective for brands either adopting a leaner or tending towards a leaner portfolio. Apple leads in terms of revenue growth as well as with an above average volume and value growth and has been exemplary with a leaner portfolio appealing all the user segments. However, brands such as Motorola and Xiaomi have also shown exceptional volume growth and rise in revenues per SKU over the last year or so. Their portfolio is much leaner with a few hero models appealing broad consumer segments.

A leaner and focused models/SKUs portfolio helps OEM better gauge the inventory, manage the demand-supply dynamics and scale out standardized components. Brands with hundreds of different SKUs with a shotgun approach is no longer working. Firstly, it makes the overall OEM cost structure, components sourcing, designing, product planning process and marketing strategies way more complex and fragmented. Secondly, with no unanimous & unique design language or positioning strategy is seriously hurts the brand appeal.

Mobile phone industry is quickly turning into FMCG industry and more the products, sub-brands and SKUs the more it will dilute the overall brand. As the renowned American psychologist Barry Schwartz argues in his book “Paradox of Choice” that eliminating number of consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers in deciding which is the best or hero offering, so, “less is more”. We recommend brands should cut down on number of models and just focus on hero models in a few price-bands with value proposition in form of design, features and so forth which is clearly distinguished. A streamlined portfolio strategy will help achieve balance, greater scale from sourcing, go-to-market and time-to-market point of view. This should be a good foundation then to then reallocate the previously wasted resources and invest towards building better design, intellectual property, meaningful features and  services.

This trend will be more prevalent in newer upstart brands and the ones which are trying leaner go-to-market strategies (e.g. e-commerce, etc). So we would recommend to keep an thoughtful eye on this trend and align specific solutions to target effectively.


Neil Shah
Research Director
Counterpoint Research

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