By now, everyone is aware of the messy situation that Flipkart created with the OnePlus 3 sale that it did. The sale was a mess because of two important reasons – one, Flipkart is not authorized to sell that device, Amazon is and the other is, the way they did it is a classic example of underhanded operating style that needs to be nipped in the bud. There is also a bigger issue of the precedent it sets and that is not at all looking good for the e-commerce players and device makers alike.
First up, the way that Flipkart worked this leaves a lot of things in the questionable zone, let’s see what they are. The very first one is the fact that this is a clear sleight of the policy that device makers have of exclusive partnerships. There is a lot of strategy and business consideration that goes into forging these. These are not decisions based on whims or fancies, the buying experience, inventory management and supply chain are all linked to this. So when another portal that is not a partner suddenly breaks the flow and sells devices like this, it disrupts this delicate set of calculations and can make the stock run out faster than anticipated, creating friction between buyers and makers. There is also a problem of after sales support that gets disturbed in a big way when the flow changes like this. In this case, Flipkart has “assured” buyers of support despite OnePlus distancing themselves from the sale, but the key question is, support for how long? And is the support through official channels of the maker? The answers to both these questions are sketchy at best in the case of the OnePlus 3 sale on Flipkart.
The official OnePlus stand is that they will support only the devices sold on Amazon and that they are not responsible for devices purchased otherwise. This in my mind is alarm bells for anyone who buys the device from Flipkart. It is really worrying to see “tech bloggers” pushing affiliate links to this sale. They may be in for a world full of messes if the device purchased through their link malfunctions and the people knock at their doors.
Let’s also talk about the bigger picture here, just the fact that this sale went through is a big bad precedent that does not augur well for the future. What or who is going to stop Flipkart or any other portal from doing this again, where they go and ambush a brand with arbitrarily low priced and unofficial sales? Flipkart already did this to FitBit and now to OnePlus. The regulators seem to be looking the other way.
There are a few other things that are being said about this whole fracas. The first thing is that OnePlus has somehow colluded with the portal to clear their stock of OnePlus 3 which is a device that is not being produced anymore. Believe me, all that OnePlus needs to do is announce a sale on Amazon and they will have no issues selling their stock. They regularly go out of stock on their own and as someone who observes them closely, I don’t think that they need gimmicks to sell their devices out. The other point being made is that there is nothing illegal about the sale. That may be true, they might have bought it at a price and sold it at a lower price to make the sale exciting, since we are not investors in the portal in question, who are we to question them? Well, the question is about ethics and standards, what would Flipkart do if an exclusive product was sold elsewhere like this? i very much doubt if they would keep quiet.
So, in summary, Flipkart has essentially undermined an exclusive partnership by doing this and the manufacturer has clearly distanced themselves from it. As a precedent, this is not where the e-commerce sector should be going at all. Why aren’t there ethics and policy regulators who are looking into it? As I recall, Flipkart was playing the “patriotic” card a few days ago and seeking support to take on “foreign” players. But who will bell the local cat? That is the million dollar question!