26 March 2019
A visitor tries out a virtual-reality device at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: Bloomberg
A visitor tries out a virtual-reality device at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: Bloomberg

Over 25% of CES exhibitors are from China

I went to my first International Consumer Electronics Show in 1978, and exhibitors from China were few and hard to find.

Most made horrifyingly crappy audio products like amps, tuners and receivers. Some others made horrifyingly crappy circuit boards for amps, tuners and receivers.

Still, as big as the show was back then and in ensuing years, you could find all the Chinese vendors after about a half hour or so, usually somewhere in a dimly lit basement corner (I’m serious) or in a tent outside the main convention site.

Today, CES is gargantuan. And you can’t help but see a Chinese exhibitor, even though the conference and expo in Las Vegas has grown to what Bloomberg describes as the equivalent of 35 football fields, or about two miles of floor space, filled with phones, televisions, smartwatches, washing machines and throngs of people trying to see it all.

More than one in four exhibitors are Chinese.

Maybe they ought to call it the Chinese Electronics Show.

Despite the commanding presence, most Chinese companies are hoping to raise their profile this week at CES—the world’s biggest trade show for consumer electronics, appliances and other gadgets.

Large electronics vendors like Lenovo and Huawei, as well as an array of smaller Chinese gadget makers, are prominent at this year’s show as they step up efforts to build global brands, said the Wall Street Journal.

Nonetheless, while most Americans have a house full of gadgets made by Chinese manufacturers, they are hard-pressed to name a single brand from the country.

According to one study by branding research firm Millward Brown, said WSJ, only 6 percent of Americans could name a single Chinese brand, and those that did often associated them with negative attributes such as safety issues and fake merchandise. Interbrand’s Best 100 Global Brands ranking in 2014, in fact, included just one Chinese brand: Huawei, at No. 94.

Granted, as little as few years ago, China’s tech giants like Huawei, Hisense, TCL and ZTE didn’t have much to show compared to behemoths like Samsung and Sony, which could easily wow showgoers with walls full of giant TVs and other eye-catching hardware, said Engadget.

But for the most part, there’s now product parity, at least in terms of scope of offerings. Chinese companies now make every electronic gadget, contraption, doohickey and gizmo as everyone else does.

The challenge for most though is building a US footprint because growth in the home market isn’t enough.

“We want to build up a global brand, and the US is the first step for that,” Julianna Le, co-founder of mobile accessories maker Lepow, told WSJ.

While Chinese companies like Lepow have high hopes and are wiling to pay their dues by setting up a US headquarters as Lepow did, others are taking a short cut with dazzling products that are true show stoppers.

Hisense, for example, showed off a short-throw laser projector that can beam a 100-inch image from a distance of only two feet. From media reports, the quality of this “cinema TV” is awesome.

Estar Technology unveiled what it called the world’s first holographic smartphone. While I have to see it for myself to believe it, the unit can generate holographic images that float above the display. How cool is that?

It’s no wonder that the Consumer Electronics Association, the good people that put on CES, are limiting attendance to between 150,000 and 160,000, according to Bloomberg.

Last January’s gathering of gadget-loving geeks somehow packed in a full 10,000 more people than Las Vegas has hotel rooms for them to sleep in, said Bloomberg.

Partly as a response to that, the CEA is holding its first show in China this year in Shanghai in May.

I’m so there.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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