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Samsung’s James Kitto on lockdown performance: ‘We remain the market leaders in 5G’

Jasper Hart
June 16, 2020

Samsungs sales VP looks to hit the ground running as retail restrictions ease

It’s been a year of adaptation and readjustment for everyone in the channel and beyond, not least for James Kitto. The Samsung sales head kicked the year off with the launch of the vendor’s most ambitious flagship range yet, as well as a brand new foldable, at a time when the coronavirus was not an immediate concern.

Then, just two weeks before lockdown was announced, he was promoted from sales director to vice president of sales of UK and Ireland. As lockdown has continued throughout spring, he’s remained busy with the launch of mid-range devices and a new mobile computing range, all while having to adapt business to a primarily digital approach.

As non-essential retail begins to restart this week, Kitto seems pleased about Samsung’s performance over the last 12 weeks, as well as optimistic about the rest of the year, pointing to encouraging market share stats for Samsung’s 5G devices, as well as good early feedback from Irish stores, which opened last week.

How are you settling into the new role?

Great, thanks. I am really proud of the team I lead here at Samsung. We are constantly striving to drive new thinking into everything we do with our end customers and channel partners.  Driving meaningful innovation forward has never been more important, and it’s really exciting to have a team with a real passion for what we do, shaping the future of how we live and work with the incredible technology at our disposal.

Of course, it’s been a challenging year for businesses globally and whilst it certainly hasn’t been easy adjusting to the ‘new normal’ in the era of COVID-19, I’ve been truly impressed by how we as a business have shown resilience and ingenuity, pivoting to a digital approach in both sales and how we engage and work with partners.

How has the pandemic/lockdown changed your remit?

Since we entered the lockdown period in the UK, most retailers have rapidly focused on an online-first approach and we have been working closely with our partners to support them on their digital journey. Before reopening our own retail branches such as Samsung KX and Samsung Experience Stores this week, we also had to adapt quickly, with in-store trainers transitioning to virtual product support roles where possible.

However, whilst we are adjusting to a new normal, the business has been extremely adept at maintaining a ‘business as usual’ approach. Over the last few months, we have launched another addition to the Galaxy ecosystem with our Book S computing range. What’s more, we have recently announced a new range of A Series devices, where we continue to bring innovation to the mid-range sector with products such as the A51 5G.

On 5G, we remain the market leaders in the category with 96 per cent UK market share and we are continuously focused on building customer loyalty, ensuring we are providing tools to allow people to stay connected.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of technology – it really has helped people maintain meaningful connections. We are proud to have offered our support to the remarkable health professionals on the frontline of the crisis; we have donated thousands of devices and services to those who needed it most

What have the most positive and negative aspects of pandemic-induced change been for Samsung in the UK?

The current climate has ushered in huge innovation and sped up digital transformation.  I’m extremely proud of how Samsung UK & Ireland has adapted to a new way of working and doing business – a sign of our extreme resilience in challenging times.

Of course, it helps that we’re a technology company. Our teams are powered by our devices so in many ways, we’ve always been a mobile workforce with access to the very latest technology.

In terms of challenges, the retail environment is undoubtedly in a state of flux and transition at the moment but as we innovate and reimagine a ‘new normal’ for retail, we look forward to welcoming back our customers and colleagues to our physical retail spaces this week.

We have been closely following our Samsung colleagues across Europe and are seeing very encouraging signs of a strong return in demand in countries where local governments have felt they are ready to ease lockdown restrictions. In Ireland for example, we have seen an 87 per cent increase in smartphone sales since retail stores began to reopen.

In mobile terms, can you go into details about sales of the S20 and Z Flip devices? Given a move towards mid-range phones, are they within expectations?

Demand for premium smartphones in the UK is one of the highest in Europe, and we continue to see an extremely strong performance in this category. In fact, we are the top-selling smartphone brand in the UK ultra-premium category (£900 and above), which has been bolstered by the strong results from the S20 series and the innovation we have brought to the market with the Galaxy Z Flip.

Ultimately, we put our customers’ needs and desires at the centre of everything we do and ensure they have choice. We are very proud to also be offering our latest camera and display technology at extremely competitive price points, whether it’s the A Series which now offers 5G with the A90 5G and A51 5G, or the S10 Lite which brings all of the incredible S10 camera features at an unbeatable price point. No matter what budget our customers have – Samsung makes sure they will get an incredible device experience.

What is new about the three mobile laptops launched in the UK this year compared to previous Samsung laptop launches? Does the pandemic help or hinder their chances of success, given that it has increased home working and the need for connectivity?

We are entering the UK & Irish computing market for the first time since 2014 and have big ambitions for our return with the new Galaxy Book range. The way we live, work and play is changing, and looking at customer needs, we see an opportunity for a product that combines productivity, mobility and continuity between devices.

Now more than ever before, it’s crucial our products provide our customers with enough flexibility to remain productive wherever they are. Design-wise, the Galaxy Book S, the Galaxy Book Flex and the Galaxy Book Ion are super lightweight, with excellent battery – they take portability to a whole new level, making each laptop adaptable for whatever life throws at us.

What sets this launch apart is that we’ve come at this from a mobile first point of view, offering a Galaxy computing solution to our 14.4 million customers in the UK. With the ONS recently stating 44 per cent of people in employment are working remotely, the importance of tech for both working and connecting with loved ones is more important than ever.

Additionally, how do they work in conjunction with Samsung mobiles to foster the idea of a product ecosystem?

For us, our new Galaxy Book range completes the Galaxy ecosystem. It brings features our loyal fan base love into a fantastic range of products, whether it’s our QLED technology in the screens or S-Pen functionality with the Galaxy Book Flex.

It’s also important our products work seamlessly together, which is why you’ll find features such as wireless charging integrated into the Galaxy Book Ion. To make sure the software experience is as impressive as our hardware, we’ve worked closely with Microsoft. Customers can now easily go between PC and mobile using Link to Windows on their Galaxy device. For instance, if you’re like me and take lots of photos – you can just drag and drop these from your phone to PC.

With lockdown easing, operators’ stores reopening, and consumers potentially more confident to spend, have you any insights into what products you expect them to go after?

Recent industry data from Springboard highlights a trend of ‘pent-up demand’ this month, shown by the queues of consumers we are seeing at stores in the UK this week.

Our own insight supports this, with expected growth across the mobile business. Over the last eight weeks, we have seen our market share in tablets increase by 20 per cent as consumers adapt to both working and connecting with loved ones from home. This is a purchasing trend we expect to continue throughout the year for both computing and tablets, as owners look to upgrade their existing device.

Smartphones sales are expected to see a significant increase as more traditional retail stores reopen this month with many customers visiting stores for a trade-in or upgrade, or just to seek expert advice. Another area of growth we anticipate is in our wearables and wireless audio category – where we have experienced unprecedented demand this year for our Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Buds+ products.

However, it’s important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation. We remain committed to supporting our partners, working closely with them to be prepared and hit the ground running this week.

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