Owing to its enormous population, Latin America has in recent years become a hotly contested market for smartphone brands. More specifically, the penetration rate of smartphones in Latin America rose from 32% in 2014 to 68% in 2020, with smartphone usage being the highest in Chile and Venezuela and lowest in Peru.
TrendForce’s investigations indicate that smartphone penetration rate in Brazil reached 72% in 2020 owing to high demand from young consumers and to the country’s massive population, the highest in Latin America. More than 85% of the 18-34 year old population group in the country consisted of smartphone owners, making Brazil the fourth largest smartphone market in the world behind only China, India, and the US. Notably, smartphone is the primary means of internet connection for most Brazilians.
With regards to smartphone brands, the Brazilian smartphone market is currently dominated by Samsung, Motorola (a Lenovo subsidiary), Xiaomi, LG, and Apple, with Samsung possessing the highest market share. Samsung’s success can mainly be attributed to its focus on customer experience. For instance, Samsung has established service centers in major cities including Sao Paulo and Campinas, where customers can not only experience the brand’s range of products, but also enjoy such value-added services as smartphone charging and free Wi-Fi, in addition to one-to-one consultation with Samsung staff.
As such, the company was able to achieve a 43.1% market share in Brazil last year. Trailing behind the Korean brand was Motorola, which took second place with a 20.5% market share. For the domestic market, Motorola’s handsets are manufactured by the Brazilian branch of global EMS giant Flex (previously known as Flextronics). Xiaomi rounded out the top three, with an 8.9% market share in 2020. Other Chinese smartphone brands such as OPPO, Vivo, and realme (the most aggressive among Chinese brands) have been entering the Latin American market since 2021.
Physical storefronts and one-stop-shop customer experiences are the keys to success in the Latin American smartphone market
Of course, entering the Brazilian market is no easy feat. TrendForce notes that some of the challenges involved with expanding in Brazil include the drastic movements of the Brazilian Real’s value as well as the country’s sky-high import duties, which have resulted in high retail prices for smartphones. Furthermore, shifts in domestic policies regarding smartphone manufacturing and online sales mean that smartphone brands must now establish domestic facilities for smartphone assembly. Apart from the high costs of domestic labor and components, Brazil’s taxes alone are able to significantly cannibalize the profitability of smartphone sales.
An appropriate case in point is Xiaomi’s 2015 venture into the Brazilian smartphone market. Xiaomi made its exit within a year of entering Brazil. Aside from the aforementioned high import duties, the company’s premature exodus took place because its online-based sales strategy was ill-suited for Brazil, where smartphone customers made purchases predominantly through major retail stores, and fewer than 20% of customers bought smartphones online.
Combined with Brazil’s prohibitive transportation costs, Xiaomi found itself unable to leverage its advantage of affordably priced handsets. Fast forward to 2019, however, as the Latin American market saw increased smartphone penetration, Xiaomi once again made its entrance, this time by focusing on developing its offline presence, including physical storefronts (called “Mi Stores”) in Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico, and Chile, which allowed it to score its first win in the Latin American smartphone market.