Xiaomi smartphones are not officially sold in the US, so it's quite a challenge to buy one there. Sometimes, however, consumers in China also struggle to buy a Xiaomi handset.

Mi 9, the latest flagship smartphone from Xiaomi, went on sale in China last week, and reportedly sold out in less than 53 seconds. Another round of sales opened today, but consumers complained again about failing to buy the handset because the Mi 9 stock ran out in seconds.

The Mi 9 was launched on the same day as the Galaxy S10 last week. (Picture: SCMP)

Flash sales have long been a part of Xiaomi’s strategy. It is a tactic widely known as “hunger marketing”, in which Xiaomi makes available a limited number of smartphones for several rounds of sales. This approach would not only draw the attention of consumers, but also create the impression that a certain smartphone model is hard to get. 

Lei Jun, co-founder and chief executive of Xiaomi, has repeatedly denied that the Beijing-based company’s flash sales strategy is a marketing stunt. 

Apart from being a controversial way to keep consumers engaged and frustrated at the same time, flash sales have also backfired on Xiaomi. In the UK, for example, the company launched what it called a “crazy deals” promotion last November, in which its Mi 8 Lite smartphone was offered for £1 (US$1.32). It later emerged that only two to three units of that model were made available in each round of sales during the promotion, eliciting a backlash from disappointed shoppers. 

Xiaomi had bet there will be no such controversies with the Mi 9, after Lei assured at the Mi 9 launch last month that it will “have plenty in stock” when sales start. His recent Weibo posts are now swamped with criticism from angry fans who failed to buy the handset. 

“Is this what you call ‘in stock’?” one user asked on Weibo.

In response, Xiaomi executives posted on Weibo about the company’s efforts to rush production of the Mi 9, while denying it was doing “hunger marketing” again.

Lei recently wrote that the Mi 9’s advanced cameras have put pressure on production. He said Xiaomi has added another factory -- one belonging to Chinese car and rechargeable batteries manufacturer BYD -- to help boost smartphone assembly. 

Lin Bin, Xiaomi’s co-founder and president, posted pictures of himself personally supervising the production line.

“Your visit will only slow down their production,” says one top comment on Lin Bin’s post. (Picture: 林斌_Bin on Weibo)

Despite that effort, some consumers are threatening to switch to other brands if Xiaomi fails to swiftly resolve its production problem. Certain sub-brands from major Chinese smartphone players, such as Huawei and Vivo, are now providing more options for consumers. These sub-brands not only offer lower prices, but also more new features on their devices, intensifying competition in the world’s largest smartphone market.

“Not fighting for this. I’ll just buy an iQOO tomorrow,” said one popular comment on Weibo, referring to Vivo’s new sub-brand. Other commenters suggested buying a device from Huawei’s Honor sub-brand.