China’s Xiaomi to sell smartphones directly from Sina Weibo microblogging service

China’s Xiaomi to sell smartphones directly from Sina Weibo microblogging service

Xiaomi, the up-and-coming Chinese smartphone maker that has been compared to Apple, has announced a new partnership with Sina Weibo, the country’s top microblogging platform, to test a new strategy of selling its handsets directly on Weibo.

As noted by Sina Tech, the two companies are kicking off their experiment this week. Reservations will be taken today and tomorrow, and sales will start at noon on Friday. Interested purchasers have been directed to a Weibo event page with information about how to buy.

The batch will include 50,000 units of Xiaomi’s new Mi2 that will be available only to Weibo users. The Mi2 was first released in October, but it has been heavily backlogged for the past couple of months.

Payment will be taken through Sina’s own recently revamped Weibo payment system. Earlier this month, the company rebranded its SinaPay product as WeiboPay. The service uses the same login as Weibo, so users will automatically have accounts on it.

Xiaomi’s partnership with Sina is also particularly noteworthy because the company has eschewed traditional distribution channels in the past, instead opting to sell most of its devices directly from its website in periodic batches as supply came in. By testing device purchasing and payment directly from a microblog, the company has continued to demonstrate its interest in being an e-commerce innovator.

With 400 million users, Sina will offer a significant increase in potential reach for Xiaomi, which already actively uses the service to make announcements or tease upcoming products. For its part, Sina will also get plenty out of the deal, as establishing itself as a viable ecommerce platform could solve its monetization problems. The company has had a hit on its hands with Weibo, but it has yet to figure out how to convert it into cold hard cash.

Recent rumors had suggested that Sina and Xiaomi were going to combine their respective chat services to take on Tencent’s WeChat, which is quickly approaching 300 million users and has adversely affected time spent on Weibo. However, a reliable source has dismissed the rumor as false. In any case, the two companies did eventually team up, just on a different project.

Xiaomi has quickly emerged as one of China’s three major homegrown smartphone makers. Its rivals, OPPO and Meizu have also announced their own flagship handsets for the Chinese New Year holiday shopping season. Each of the three has carved out their own price range within the industry. Xiaomi’s devices are the most affordable, while Meizu’s MX2 is priced in the mid-range and OPPO’s Find 5 sits at the high-end.

Foreign companies will likely watch this development with curiosity. If successful, the distribution method could transfer easily for social networking services like Twitter and Facebook. Startups like Dwolla and Chirpify have enable payment solutions on Twitter.

There’s certainly room for improvement in how smartphone launches are handled. Earlier this week, a Google executive apologized for the botched release of the Nexus 4. While I’m not convinced that we’ll see Nexus phone sales on Google+ anytime soon, international handset makers might be able to learn a thing or two from this trial.

More to follow…

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