| HONG KONG
HONG KONG Xiaomi Inc aims to sell double the number of handsets offline in China this year than analysts estimated it sold offline globally last year, an internal document showed, signaling a shift away from an online-focused strategy copied by resurgent competition.
The online-driven sales model propelled Beijing-based Xiaomi to second among Chinese smartphone vendors in 2015, just three years after releasing its first handset and five years after inception, showed data from researcher TrendForce.
But Xiaomi missed its global shipment target by 12 percent, selling 70 million handsets in a year when local rivals such as Lenovo Group Ltd and top player Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] countered at home with similar Internet-only sales.
Last year also saw growth slow for the first time in China's smartphone market, the world's biggest and where Xiaomi makes most of its sales. In response, Xiaomi aims to ramp up sales through retailers and raise its number of "Mi Home" stores to 50 from 20, said a person close to the matter.
"Xiaomi is trying to expand offline rapidly," said the person, who declined to be identified as the information was confidential. "But mi.com is still the core business," the person said, referring to Xiaomi's website.
Analysts estimated 40 percent of Xiaomi's 2015 global total, or 28 million smartphones, was sold offline.
This year, the company aims to sell 58 million smartphones in China alone through retailers including Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd, GOME Electrical Appliances Holding Ltd and Beijing Digital Telecom Co Ltd's D.Phone, showed an internal document reviewed by Reuters.
Privately held Xiaomi, in response to a request for comment, said it had not set any performance targets for this year.
Suning and GOME did not immediately respond to requests for comment. D.Phone Marketing Manager Wang Yue said Xiaomi would account for "a big part" of its smartphone sales but declined to elaborate.
Xiaomi is China's most valuable technology startup with an estimated worth of $45 billion. But missing the tail end of its 80 million to 100 million handset sales target last year has cast doubt on that valuation, analysts said.
The vendor has been losing market share as consumers increasingly split between those opting for cheaper phones and those aiming at premium models from established rivals such as ZTE Corp. Xiaomi's line-up sits mainly in between.
Partnering retailers to stem the decline would add costs to a startup whose profit margin is likely already very thin, said analyst Jason Low at researcher Canalys.
"Xiaomi certainly has to adjust its strategy," said Low. "You can't reach a certain target audience, such as people in the countryside, solely via online channels."
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Elzio Barreto; Editing by Christopher Cushing)