Smartphone shipments in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region fell by 11% YoY and 3% QoQ in the first quarter of 2023 to reach the lowest first quarter shipment level since 2016, according to the latest research from Counterpoint’s Market Monitor Service. Much of the prevailing economic woes of the region continued, including high inflation rates, local currency depreciation and weak consumer sentiment. Smartphone OEMs were stuck in low gear as inventory correction, channel efficiency and cost cutting continued to be the main themes in the region.
Commenting on the market’s performance, Senior Analyst Yang Wang said: “The MEA smartphone market saw another tough quarter as the macroeconomic environment remained challenging. Difficulties impacting consumer spending towards big-ticket upgrades such as smartphones are now well known, and both consumers and OEMs are adjusting to the new realities with extra caution. The prospect of a V-shaped rebound has dimmed as companies prioritize inventory management, cost controls and streamlined product portfolios.”
Despite the gloomy tone, there were early signs of stabilization towards the end of the quarter. For instance, most OEMs saw encouraging sell-out numbers due to the Ramadan and Easter sales promotions. Most notably, this manifested at the top of the market, where Apple’s iPhone 14 series (particularly the higher-priced Pro and Pro Max models) has proven to be extremely popular. Samsung’s new 5G models in the A series sold well. The mid-range OEMs or mid-range segments within OEMs have also been strong, with the likes of Xiaomi, TECNO, Infinix, HMD Nokia and realme all achieving above-average market performance.
On the other hand, the impact of currency depreciation and inflation has hurt lower-income households much more than the average. In the first quarter of 2023, this manifested in itel’s 45% YoY drop. itel is struggling to keep refreshing its portfolio while keeping costs under control. OPPO and vivo somewhat stabilized after the product availability situation improved, but the two brands continued to shed market share as distributors remained cautious on the brands’ commitment to the region.
Commenting on the direction of the MEA smartphone market, Wang added,“Poor consumer demand is likely to remain the main theme for the rest of the year, as consumers postpone upgrades while holding onto their current handsets a little bit longer. We, however, expect that the inventory situation will improve gradually by the second half of the year, which will be followed by more ambitious product portfolio revamps and promotional activities by OEMs and distributors. This will coincide with better economic conditions as global interest rates and energy prices stabilize, providing much-needed breathing room for consumers in emerging markets.”