Why do offline phones sell so well despite the lacklustre specifications? 

The vast majority of the population does not consist of tech enthusiasts. After looking at the price of the phone, the specifications, and after comparing the phone to other phones in the price bracket, enthusiasts instantly can label phones as overpriced (OnePlus 10R, iPhone SE2022 for example), great value (Redmi Note 10 Pro, Realme GT 2 Pro), or somewhere in between (Realme 9 Pro Plus). 

Just look at the Realme 9 Pro Plus, a phone for online retail and the Oppo F21 Pro 5G, a phone for offline retail. Comparing them on paper, it is an absolute destruction, the Realme has a better SOC, better cameras, with the primary camera consisting of OIS, the Realme also has an Ultrawide camera while the Oppo does not. The Realme is priced lower, has a higher 90Hz refresh rate and overall it just a much much better phone than the F21 Pro 5G. The Oppo by the way, has an abysmal pricing of 380$ with no OIS, no Ultra Wide angle lens, a weak Snapdragon 695 and a 60Hz refresh rate. 

Or, take the OnePlus 9RT (a phone sold both offline and online, but mostly online) and the Vivo V23 Pro (offline centric). Again, it’s like playground bullying. The OnePlus has OIS, which the Vivo does not, it has a much better SOC (Snapdragon 888). The Dimensity 1200 at prices like 40,000 INR isn’t quite justified. The OnePlus has a better 16MP Ultrawide angle camera and a better 120Hz display and the list goes on. The 9RT is clearly a much better overall phone and it’s quite ironic that a camera centric device does not even have optical image stabilisation. The only focus seems to be the selfie camera. Come on, Vivo. 

Let’s compare the Redmi Note 10 Pro to the Galaxy A32. Complete annihilation once again, with the Redmi having a higher refresh rate, a better SOC, better cameras, better design, a more premium construction and much more than the poor A32 with a weak chip and an old water drop notch design. We could go on comparing online against offline, like the A33 and Note 11 Pro Plus, Poco M4 Pro 5G and the A22 5G, etc, but you get the idea. Online phones have much better specifications, are much more value for money and are also overall miles better than offline phones.

Offline retail
Offline Phones: Why do they sell well?

This is not to claim that offline retail focused brands do not innovate. That isn’t true, Vivo made the first under display fingerprint scanner, the first popup camera, the first camera with a gimbal stabilisation system, Oppo has made countless innovations in fast charging tech and temperature regulation, etc. Fun fact: Vivo spends over 2200 Cr INR every year on marketing and advertisement.

Before going further, this article only talks about offline centric midrange, premium midrange and budget smartphones, not flagship phones. Regardless of where they are purchased, flagship phones will always have somewhat latest technology and really good specifications anyway so it does not really matter if they are sold online or offline.

An average buyer mostly will not care about 4K electronically stabilised video recording capabilities, optical image stabilisation, the ability of the phone’s screen to display HDR content, benchmark and performance numbers and processing power, exclusive software skin features and the list goes on. They have a heavy focus on the megapixel count of the primary camera, and the design of the camera module.

Pretty much, they don’t really care about anything that a tech enthusiast primarily looks for, in a smartphone. Most offline buyers just want a smartphone that does their daily tasks like messaging, browsing, payments, multimedia and calling, etc, and simply looks good, takes good selfies, has a big-name actor or celebrity or influencer backing it up in a well made advertisement, and that’s about it.

An offline buyer who isn’t much of a tech geek will have starkly opposing priorities in a smartphone. Online, phones are about specs on paper, like camera sensors, processors, refresh rates, etc. Direct comparisons with specifications of other devices are really easy to make online, since competing phones are literally one click or tap away. 

Offline, it’s about how luxuriously the store is decorated, how politely the staff talk to you, how well spaced and neatly spread out the phones are. It’s also about the in-hand feel of a phone, how attractive the aesthetics are, which celebrity is endorsing the phone, etc. Also, the quality of the front camera, which is a major priority to most normal people, is also often highlighted in offline centric phones.

So while enthusiasts will just scoff at these offline phones that are focused on selfie cameras and flashy designs with weak on-paper specifications and weak SOCs, backed by celebrity endorsements, billboards and television adverts, offline buyers look for exactly that. For most offline buyers, the design and in-hand feel, the quality of the front camera and how attractive and well made the advertisements look, these are the primary priorities. 

Online, it isn’t about the perceived quality you get from holding the phone in your hand, the commodious stores, etc, it is about the measurable specifications on paper, like battery capacities, refresh rates, etc. Phones that stand out on paper will always win online.

An offline store
An offline store.

This post isn’t trying to justify those phones, it’s attempting to explain why they sell in good numbers regardless of poor specifications. 

There are other marketing hacks that offline brands have. There are types of adverts called logic persuasion advertisements, they basically target your brain and create an impression. Of course, enthusiasts who understand smartphone marketing will just ignore this, but a lot of people will associate the phones with these advertisements. A few examples are below.

  1. “Every emotion in portrait” (Oppo Reno 6 series)
  2. “Perfect shot, perfect moment” (Vivo V19)
  3. “More power to you” (Vivo Y50)
  4. “Delight every moment” (Vivo V23 Series)
  5. “Flaunt your best” (Oppo F21 and 21 Pro)
  6. “The portrait expert” (Oppo Reno 7 series)
  7. “Oh So Pro” (iPhone 13 Pro)
  8. “Blast Past Fast” (iPhone 12)
  9. “Your new superpower” (iPhone 13)
  10. “Light. Bright. Full of might” (iPad Air 5)
  11. “Love the power, love the price” (iPhone SE 2022)
  12. “Delightfully capable, surprisingly affordable” (Base iPad)

There are tons of other examples like this, but the general idea seems to be a cliche tagline paired with the phone to target a consumer. These taglines stick with us.

F21 Pro: A phone for offline retail
F21 Pro: A phone for offline retail

Offline stores also have well trained salesmen who simply spread a lot of misinformation regarding products. An audience of non tech geeks is simply bound to believe whatever the salesmen say. Plenty of them have told me that midrange phones from Oppo and Vivo (V23 Pro, F21 Pro, Reno 6, etc) have much better cameras than flagship iPhones simply because they have a higher megapixel count, which is obviously not true.

They might say Oppo and Vivo phones have tons of software modes which you cannot even find on latest Samsung flagships, and they proceed to mention things like black and white portrait mode effects or dual video mode, vlog mode, etc which are all pretty minor features that are already on most phones. Some say phones with Mediatek chips never lag and that their gaming performance is unrivalled. Other salesmen told me that the Exynos 9611 is a stellar chipset for gaming.

Another common trap people fall into often is the RAM trap. An offline salesperson tells you that a phone with 8GB RAM is simply better than another phone with 6GB RAM just because of the 2GB of extra RAM, regardless of the other specifications. They claim it is better for performance and will have better longevity, etc. Not exactly the case if the chipset is weak. Upon generalisation, it is easy to see how a normal person might be tempted to buy phones with higher RAM, which are mostly sold offline.

You get the idea, most of the statements they say are just carefully constructed lies that bend ow the truth and are designed to fool buyers who do not understand smartphones. Might sound harsh but that is exactly what is going on offline, you can look for multiple sources that confirm this, the tech community on Twitter is one of the sources.

Also Read: Why Xiaomi is expanding to making flagships globally.

Another way offline salesmen convince buyers that they’re getting a good deal is by throwing in a pair of headphones or a neckband along with the phone. Lots of people will be lured for sure, because that they’re getting stuff for free.

Offline salesmen also use power words that get your attention. According to several studies, Power words like ‘New’, ‘Free’, ‘Bonus’, ‘Discount’, ‘Latest’, etc have an effect on people. At offline stores, they also offer something like 6 months of free screen replacement time, bonus store discounts, free SIM Cards or added data plans to existing SIM cards, etc, all of which are designed to inveigle customers.

Also, phones offline are not meant to have amazing price to performance ratios or stellar specifications on paper, or amazing processing power. They are mostly sold as fashion accessories to fashion focused buyers and people who pay attention to celebrities and actors and other models and media influencers. This is the reason why offline brands tend to over advertise and heavily spend on marketing. They can win more consumers this way.

Why do offline centric phones carry higher price tags?

Selling phones offline involves lots of middlemen. Brands have to pay the transport fees, import and export taxes and they also need to pay a cut to respective retail outlets to store the phones. They pay a lot of other middlemen who take their own shares.

Brands pay a lot of money to celebrities, who endorse their phones. They also have to spend on billboards, Television advertisements, YouTube advertisements, posters across major cities and lots of other things, all of which combined are supposed to ‘justify’ the higher price tags of offline phones despite the vapid specifications offered.

Companies sometimes pay over 50% over their margins to the respective offline retail centres. They pay shopkeepers, main distributors and the multiple sub distributors, etc and a lot of middlemen too, before reaching the end consumer.

Offline phones basically get really premium and expensive marketing and are turned into fashionable accessories. They are just not meant to cater to tech enthusiasts. This is a major reason why sub brands are created by companies, to differentiate online and offline retail because they are wildly different businesses, but that is another post for a later day.

Despite the extra costs the brand has to endure, the specifications are still really bad for their respective prices, for offline phones. Enthusiasts will definitely shy away from recommending them. Just because a buyer is not a tech enthusiast does not mean they deserve phones with weak chipsets, poor cameras and an overall bad experience. 

All offline phones are not always scams though, for example the A52S could be bought for 30,000 INR offline, or the Oppo Reno 6 for 25,000 INR, the Oppo Reno 7 Pro for 34,000 INR, the A52 4G for 21,000 INR, the A53 at 30,000 INR, etc. But this is only applicable sometimes and most recent offline centric phones have been straight up bad value, like the F21 Pro 4G and 5G, Reno 7, Vivo V23, V23 E and V23 Pro, Galaxy A53 at full price, Galaxy A73, etc.

So back to the original question, why do offline phones sell so well? Here, you’ve got your answer. Regular consumers who buy phones offline will just keep buying these phones after they look at the advertisements, the celebrity endorsements, the design and front camera, etc and of course brands will keep selling phones like this since it’s working out so well for their business. 

Thanks for reading, drop a comment down below if you agree with these views.


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Surya Sudhanshu

Tech Enthusiast & Journalist, Possibly Funny & Sarcastic, Bibliophile, Chess Player, Photography Enthusiast, Internet Addict, Student. (He/ Him, 17)

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