Which are the hottest selling new phones in India?
The answer, for most people, would be LeEco Le 2 and Lenovo Vibe K5. The two models started becoming available in the last two weeks, and have already sold in their tens of thousands, if not lakhs.
Yet, if you were looking for user reviews of the Lenovo Vibe K5 or LeEco Le 2, you are out of luck. Neither Flipkart nor Amazon are letting users share their experience with these handsets.
This is perhaps the first time that the most in-demand phones (excuse the Redmi Note 3) are being sold without a single user review a week or more after the first sale. The Vibe K5 started selling in India two weeks ago, and deliveries usually takes 1 or 2 days in bigger cities. The LeEco Le 2 was first sold six days ago.
In other words, it is time that the first users got their hands on their devices and were ready to share their impressions. Yet, surprisingly, neither phone has customer feedback on their sales pages.
In fact, we tried to give our feedback on Vibe K5, having bought one ourselves, but we were not given an option to write our review on the page.
UPDATE: Amazon has now started allowing K5 reviews.
UGLY SIDE OF DIGITAL MARKETING
Part, if not the whole, of the reason why user feedback has been restricted on the models has to do with guerrilla marketing tactics used by rivals brands.
In the old days, marketing a product meant promoting your own; but in today’s social media-based world, it also means dissing your rival’s product.
As a result, many companies are afraid of allowing users, genuine or fake, post their reviews on their devices.
In addition, the overwhelming majority of smartphone buyers today depend on reviews by other users — rather than media reviews — to make a decision on whether to buy a product or not.
As a result, many models, which got great reviews from review websites and tech press, have fallen flat after users figured out crucial flaws that were missed by the so-called expert reviews in the press.
The second reason why companies are afraid of user feedback has to do with the flash sale model. Though this reason is no longer applicable to the Lenovo Vibe K5 — which is available on demand from today — it is somewhat relevant for LeEco’s Le 2.
LeEco sold 61,000 Le 2 last Tuesday, but the company had lakhs of people sign up for the sale.
Therefore, it is obvious that there were more disappointed people at the end of the sale than there were happy people, and as companies like Xiaomi have found out, this can have unforeseen repercussions.
When Xiaomi started selling its much-sought-after Redmi Note 3 in March, it was up against a frustrating problem: Hundreds of irritated fans vented their anger and disappointment at the company by leaving terrible reviews for the products.
However, this problem was subsequently dealt with by restricting reviews only to those who had purchased the product or to whom deliveries were made.
However, the episode exposed the pitfalls of digital and word-of-mouth marketing, especially when you are selling your product in flash sales that inevitable leave thousands of people unhappy and frustrated every week.
However, disallowing user reviews on such products — which are not available in stores — may have bad repercussions too, as user reviews and ‘expert reviews’ by media are the only two ways for buyers to get a ‘feel’ for the device before shelling out the cash.
EXPERT REVIEW PITFALLS
Unlike user feedback, expert reviews cannot be relied upon fully for a simple reason — the so-called experts depend on the handset companies for a variety of things.
First, they depend on the handset makers to provide them with a sample for review ahead of general availability. As a result, most experts tend to be fairly guarded in their criticisms and evaluations as they need to maintain good relationships with their sources.
Secondly, many expert reviewers depend on these companies to sponsor their transportation to, and stay at, expensive places like Barcelona, Shanghai and Las Vegas for attending technology or product-related events such as the Mobile World Congress.
And the third and final factor is purely one of numbers. There are far more users than there are expert commentators, and feedback from a user who has used the phone for a couple of days is likely to be more relevant to a buyer than a quick evaluation from an expert. Similarly, users who spend their hard-earned money to buy a product once a year are likely to be more critical than someone who gets the hardware for free and reviews multiple gadgets every week.