Buying super-cheap China products from direct imports used to resemble a game of chance. Whether headphones, a robot vacuum cleaner or quick chargers are really compatible and don’t break immediately only became clear once used. But in return, an affordable alternative to original products from brands such as Apple, Sony, Samsung or Dyson was tempting. The fan forums did not hide what they were hoping for: the best possible copies of well-known products. Even today, there is still talk of “AirPods alternatives” or a “MagSafe copy for Android”.
But nowadays, the interest in Chinese hardware goes beyond groups of hobby buyers willing to compromise who exchange information on forums like China-Gadget. Chinese devices have become socially acceptable and are also offered at German discounters like Aldi, Lidl and Kaufland or even large electronics chains like MediaMarkt and Saturn. Admittedly, they still look suspiciously similar to the original, but now feature real innovations and in some cases better components – for example, larger and longer-lasting batteries. In this way, Chinese brands are now finding buyers in Germany, to whom they were completely unknown just four years ago. Dreame, Oclean, Xiaomi.
When it comes to smartphones, Chinese manufacturers like Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi have been a household name for most Germans for quite some time. No wonder. Oppo and Vivo now each have a market share of around ten percent with their devices, thus ranking among the top 5 most sold smartphones in Germany. With a market share of 23 percent, Xiaomi was even in second place according to market research institute Canalys – and has even caught up with Apple. Only Samsung still sells more smartphones in Germany.
What is less well known is that smartphones only make up a fraction of the business for companies like Xiaomi. Whether televisions, fitness watches, cordless vacuum cleaners, digital cameras – Xiaomi even offers air purifiers and electric toothbrushes. And BBK-Electronics, the parent company of Oppo, Realme and Vivo, also has kitchen appliances and other home and consumer electronics on offer.
Leading the Internet of Things
As one of the first Chinese companies, Shenzhen-based Xiaomi has made the Internet of Things the guiding principle of its product policy. It operates its own app store and a large proportion of its household devices – be it smart light bulbs, webcams, timers and even air purifiers – all can be networked together. Xiaomi is even tinkering on its own electric car (as reported by China.Table). Now, these tech companies are also making inroads in Germany with their household and entertainment devices.
Vacuuming and cleaning robots have already arrived on the German market, a market for the longest time dominated by US company iRobot, which was the pioneer among service and house robots in the noughties with its Roomba series of vacuuming robots. But Chinese manufacturers have caught up. The first devices were still a cheap imitation with lower suction power and inferior batteries. In terms of price, they are still cheaper than the US competition. Qualitatively, they are at least equal, some even superior. German tech magazine Chip recently crowned the vacuuming and cleaning robot Deebot T9+ by company Ecovac from Suzhou as the winner. “If you want the best of the best here, the Ecovacs Deebot T9+ is a good choice. Thanks to its excellent navigation and suction performance, it came out on top of the robot cleaner ranking,” the trade journal concluded.
Among cordless vacuum cleaners, the former British company Dyson, which now relocated to Singapore, has been the leader with its special cyclone vacuum technology, which eliminated the need for vacuum bags. With a market share of just under 20 percent, Dyson still ranks third on the German vacuum cleaner market, and is even the leader in cordless vacuum cleaners. However, Chinese manufacturers are also catching up fast in this segment.
Most powerful vacuum cleaner
With a suction power of 25,000 revolutions per minute, the motor of the Mi G10 from Xiaomi already reaches the power of the V11 Absolute, Dyson’s current flagship model. The motor of the T30 cordless vacuum from Dreame, a partner company of Xiaomi, even reaches 150,000 RPM. The Dreame T30’s battery lasts up to 90 minutes, while Dyson’s vacuum only manages 60 minutes. “With 1.7 kilograms, the T30 is only almost half as heavy and with about 400 euros also only almost half as expensive. In terms of suction power, the Dreame T30 stick vacuum cleaner is way ahead and can also keep up with the Dyson larger devices,” writes German vacuum reviewer www.staubsauger-berater.de, calling it “one of the most powerful cordless vacuum cleaners we have ever tested”.
According to the market researcher Euromonitor, the predecessor models of Dreame had a market share of just 2.2 percent on the German market last year. That doesn’t sound like much. However, these numbers only include devices sold via electronic stores such as Saturn and MediaMarkt or via Lidl, Aldi or online sales platforms such as Amazon. However, many Chinese brands sell their goods on eBay or their own websites and ship them directly from China to their customers.
For companies like Xiaomi, direct sales have been part of the recipe for success from the very beginning. In China, the company still distributes the majority of products via its own website. Here, new devices are often announced months in advance, which are then pre-ordered by customers well in advance. Through this, the company is able to decide early on how many devices it will order for production. Like Apple, Xiaomi mostly does not manufacture its hardware itself, but sources the goods from contract manufacturers. This lowers the costs massively.
This business model cannot be directly transferred to the European markets. German consumers in particular still prefer to shop in stores. Chinese manufacturers, on the other hand, prefer online direct sales. While the fact that ordering and shipping via Chinese retail platforms like AliExpress is actually quite reliable was only known to tech geeks at first, more and more consumers now catch on.