SINGAPORE - Thousands of people responding to Huawei's $54 smartphone National Day promotion turned up at 27 stores across Singapore on Friday (July 26), only to be told that the phones were out of stock.
The police had to be called in to manage the increasingly agitated crowds of disappointed customers at various locations.
The promotion, which slashed the price of the Huawei Y6 Pro 2019 from $198 to $54 for Singaporeans and permanent residents above the age of 50, started on Friday and is running till Sunday.
In a media statement responding to queries from The Straits Times, Huawei said: "We are truly sorry to have disappointed those who have shown your support from early morning... Y6 Pro 2019 handsets have been sold out island-wide and have recorded an unprecedented surge of demand.
"The company would like to thank members of the public for their continued support and regrets the insufficient supply for the masses."
It added that it is currently "assessing other possibilities to address the situation and will continue to offer attractive promotions for all".
Huawei had previously said that the offer was meant to "celebrate the generation that made great contributions to the nation's development, and is but a timely gesture of appreciation leading up to the country's 54th National Day".
The stores included the manufacturer's own outlets as well as other electronics retailers.
Mr Loh Yew Meng, 58, went to the Huawei concept store at Block 201B Tampines Street 21 at about 8.30am to find a long queue and a sign telling customers that the promotional phones had been sold out.
This confused him, as the store opens only at 11am. He then tried his luck at another concept store at Block 503 Tampines Central 1, but was also told the phones were out of stock. There was an even longer queue of about 50 people there just after 9am. The people began pushing into the store demanding answers.
Mr Loh, who is unemployed, said he called the police as he thought the crowd, the majority of whom were elderly, was getting unruly.
He added: "I was quite upset about the situation. How can it be that you are telling the public there is no stock before the store opens or the promotion starts? Are you trying to fool people and make use of the nation's 54th anniversary?"
Huawei said the 'Sold Out' signs were put up by store employees before opening time in response to seeing the long queues formed outside.
It also claimed that some people who queued were able to get their hands on the Y6, although it did not say how many.
Huawei declined comment when asked to confirm how many handsets were available at each outlet.
Mr Jayden Lee, 27, went to the Huawei store in Jurong Point at 8.30am to buy the Y6 for his parents and he found himself at the back of a long queue that he estimated grew to over 1,000.
He waited in line till 10am, when he and the others queueing were told that the phones were out of stock.
Mr Lee said those at the front of the queue who managed to push into the store had their contact details taken down and were told that they would be notified at a later date if more sets became available. As far as he could tell, no one managed to get hold of a set.
When he left slightly after 10am, the bulk of the crowd had moved to the Challenger outlet nearby, which opened at 11am.
"There were a lot of people who got quite worked up and the police were called in to calm them down. The police told everyone to direct questions or complaints to Huawei," said Mr Lee, who is unemployed.
"The sales staff told me that there were only 28 sets available. It's simple mathematics. If you multiply that by 27 stores and compare it with the number of Merdeka Generation people in Singapore, it's not enough."
Because selling products at reduced prices is clearly not financially sustainable, the main objective of sales promotions is to draw attention to a brand and Huawei has achieved that, said Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University.
"But given that they are a fairly popular brand here, they really should have anticipated the large crowds. They could also have arranged for some other kind of discount to be given to anyone else who queued up, such as a $54 price on an older model," he added.
"The feeling of disappointment felt by hundreds of potential consumers and the magnified effects through social and mainstream media will hurt the success of future promotions and the image of the brand in general."
Courts Singapore chief executive officer Ben Tan wrote in a Facebook post on Friday that customers started queueing from 10pm on Thursday night at its flagship store in Tampines.
In its statement, Huawei had also pointed customers to another promotional offer for its flagship Huawei Mate 20 that was due to start on Saturday at all Challenger stores. The offer has now been cancelled until further notice.