LG's journey in smartphones in India: What went wrong?

The South Korean smartphone maker LG has finally called it quits. After months of deliberations, rumours and attempts to sell its mobile business, the company has officially announced that it will exit the smartphone market.

Though this decision may come as a rude shock to the users who’ve bought LG phones in the recently concluded sales, where the company sold truckloads of LG G8X, according to analysts it was just a matter of time. The company wasn’t making money at all and apart from awe-inspiring innovation at the flagship level, its product range was confusing and lacklustre.

The decision to close its mobile business means that the company will not be making or launching any new phones from now on. This also means that the LG Rollable that everyone was looking forward to may never see the light of the day and in India, the budget centric W41 Series smartphones launched in late February will remain as its last launch in the country.

In its roadmap ahead, the company has stated that it will now focus on tech that supports mobility and hence will train its energy towards 6G, components for the electric vehicles, connected devices, smart homes, robotics, AI and business-to-business solutions etc.

However, for the users in India who’ve recently bought LG phones, the company will continue to offer updates and will continue to offer after-sales support. And even though the South Korean company has been a household name for decades thanks to its consumer electronics and home appliance products, it was never able to catch the attention of Indian consumers and with the arrival of Chinese players like Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo, the South Korean company was always a step or two behind.

Let us try to dissect and see what went wrong for LG in India:

Frequent price drops 

Of the many things LG managed to do wrong, frequent price drops of newly launched devices ensured that the early adopters would maintain a safe distance from LG's phones. The company would notoriously sell the devices at a reduced price (at times as low as 50% of the launch price) within weeks or max after a month of its launch, thus losing the trust of its loyalists.

Users rather than flogging the brand stores after the launch waited for the company to drop the price of the phone before they would even think of buying one. This, in a price-sensitive market like India, was nothing less than criminal. 

Even the LG G8X that was probably the highest selling LG device in India received a lukewarm response at the launch and as it was priced at Rs. 55,000. In comparison, a similarly specced device like Redmi K20 Pro’s top-end variant was announced at under Rs. 30,000.

Though, during the online sales conducted late last year the same LGG G8X was sold at Rs. 19999 and later around Rs. 26000 and thus was able to sell in huge numbers. The phone, however, is still listed at Rs. 70,000 on LG India’s official website.

Brands like Samsung or Apple have built credibility and a loyal fan base over a period. Even though these brands sell their devices at a premium, the price fluctuation is not frequent and thus gives a better return on investment to the user who plans to sell the phone after using it for some time.

Delayed and insignificant launches 

LG Velvet was launched in the global markets with the Mediatek Dimensity chipset or with Snapdragon 765G – both 5G capable chipsets. However, in India, the company launched the same gorgeous looking device with a Snapdragon 845 SoC. This is the same chipset that was launched in 2017, however, LG decided to use it on its flagship phone in 2020 and still expected users to pay a premium (Rs. 49,990) for the same.

Whatever hopes the company had, if any, of revival on the back of LG Velvet was thrown out of the window with this absurd pricing.

Further, even in the affordable smartphone segment where maximum traction happens in India, the company has been either silent or launching devices that don’t stand out of the crowd. A glance at the company’s budget offerings in the country tells you that LG has not been focusing enough on this segment at all. 

One of the probable reasons behind this is the fact that the company had already outsourced the manufacturing of its budget devices to a Chinese company.  

Confused lineup and even more confusing names 

LG’s arch-rival Samsung has its strategy laid out clearly and even a layman could tell you that the brand will launch 2 premium devices every year. The S series flagship would launch early in the year and would help you make a style statement while the Note series came in later in the year and was aimed at the professionals who need a large display.

Similarly, LG also had a couple of flagship series under the G and V series. However, in terms of specifications and features, there was nothing significant that could tell the series apart. The early iteration of the V series – including the LG V10 and V20 came with a secondary front display that could be used for notifications, however, LG had to quickly drop the feature as it made little sense.

Further, rather than keeping things simple, LG added monikers to the names of the phones that made matters worse. The flagship devices had a moniker “ThinQ” attached to them which made device names weirdly confusing. Take LG V40 ThinQ 5G for an example. 

Similarly, the naming convention on the affordable lineup was equally confusing hence the users were not able to easily make out which device supersedes the other one as in the case of Galaxy M31, Galaxy M31s, Galaxy M61 etc.

Innovation – but way too much 

Some of LG’s phones have been engineering marvels. Be it the recent LG Wing with the swivel display or the LG G5, a semi-modular phone, that was one of its kind back in its prime. It also made a curved display phone and was one of the first ones to launch a phone with a quad-HD display. LG’s V10 and V20 came with a secondary display above the display and many other devices have had such innovative features.

However, while users expected the LG G6 to be a successor of the LG G5 improving its modular features, LG G6 was a different device. The company always seemed to be in a hurry to adopt a new feature and drop it in the next iteration. As a result, none of these technologies could mature into a real-world path leading feature.

The only piece of tech it persisted with was the dual-screen accessory that saw some success, however, the LG Velvet priced at Rs. 50,000 it had no takers at all.

In contrast, Samsung invested in the S pen heavily that over time it has improved so much that it is considered to be the best implementation of a stylus on a phone.

Even though LG had all the technical prowess, the will to be different and innovate, however, it lacked long term vision and perseverance to iron out the mistakes. Instead, LG launched a new device every time that barely had any of the marquee features from the previous generation.

Not knowing what users wanted 

Understanding your end consumers is always a key to any business. However, with all the technical know-how the company had, it could not somehow assess what the customers wanted. 

When the likes of LeEco, Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo etc. were focusing on an online-only retail model to offer affordable devices, LG continued to focus heavily on the offline market that had multiple layers before the handset reached the consumer thus increasing costs at each stage.

Also, while other brands were focusing on adding more meaningful features, loading their devices with specifications and dual-camera setups, LG came up with devices like LG K7i though could double up as a mosquito repellent!

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