Other than Apple and Samsung, no phone maker has stirred as much attention and excitement as the young OnePlus. Established as an offshoot of Oppo at the end of 2013, OnePlus began life as a direct-to-consumer online retailer with the immodest product tagline of "flagship killer" for its initial OnePlus One and 2 devices. Now a little wiser and older, the company has reined in its marketing and it’s starting to diversify its mode of distribution, announcing today an exclusive partnership with O2 in the UK.
Having once been available only via an arcane invitation system, OnePlus’ smartphones will now be ranged across O2’s UK stores, which will serve as a platform to expanding awareness of the brand and building it up through collaborative marketing. Speaking to The Verge ahead of today’s announcement, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei said that "just doing online direct-to-consumer might not be the right perspective long term [and] if you have one exclusive partner, you can think more long-term about how to build a brand."
The OnePlus 3 will be the first phone to benefit from this partnership, becoming available in O2 retail and online stores from September 29th on tariffs starting at £28 per month for 500MB of data and no upfront cost. It will also be possible to buy the OnePlus 3 off-contract. The big benefit to consumers is that, in the more traditional mobile retail model, once they buy a OnePlus from O2, they’ll be able to walk in to an O2 store and get support for their device directly from the carrier. This addresses one of the significant pain points with OnePlus’ current distribution and support operation.
"It’s an experiment, we don’t know how things are going to go"
OnePlus already has some positive experience of taking this approach, having launched a similar scheme with Finnish carrier Elisa shortly after the OnePlus 3 release. Pei says the 3 has been Finland’s best selling phone in August, and the effectiveness of the collaboration has been "way beyond" OnePlus’ expectations. The two companies aired TV commercials together, and both aimed to appeal to a young demographic by presenting themselves as digital-savvy brands. It clearly worked there, and while Pei wants to dampen expectations — claiming "it’s an experiment, we don’t know how things are going to go" — OnePlus is already looking for further exclusive carrier partnerships beyond the UK, with the Nordic region being next on its list.
Though OnePlus hails from China, the company’s focus right now is fixed on Western European countries and India as priorities. "We looked at e-commerce shipments," says Pei, "and all the cities where they had very high-per capita usage, and found London is number one in the world. Nordics, countries like Sweden and Denmark, also rank very high." The O2 agreement makes perfect sense, therefore, as a reaction to the customer demand that’s manifested in the UK, and Pei underlines this by saying, "whatever we do in terms of product, we will consider European and Indian users first."