Liu Jingtang was a Samsung loyalist. The Shanghai technology consultant traded up steadily through its smartphones to the new Note 7. But Liu’s devotion was shaken by the Korean tech giant’s confusing response to its latest product safety scare.
Liu, 32, said Samsung Electronics quickly confirmed his Note 7 wasn’t covered by a recall announced last week. But he said after reports China might have suffered its first explosion of the problem-plagued phone, Samsung’s announcement that it saw no problem with the battery with no other explanation left him baffled.
“My loyalty to Samsung is bound to decline by a lot,” said Liu. “Samsung was my priority, but not anymore.”
China should be a bright spot for Samsung as it wrestles with a global recall of 2.5 million of its new flagship smartphones. The company has not confirmed any in China suffer the same problems that led to fires in the United States. But its brand has been battered by complaints it is doing too little to reassure Chinese owners their handsets are safe.
The potential damage to its image threatens to disrupt Samsung’s efforts to use the Note 7 to propel faster growth in a crowded Chinese market where it has slipped to sixth place after being the No. 1 brand as recently as mid-2014.
Chinese consumers are unusually alert to safety issues following an avalanche of scandals over shoddy or fake food, medicines and other goods. They also are sensitive about being treated as well as Western consumers.
“I think consumers are pretty unhappy with Samsung,” said Ben Cavender of China Market Research Group. “Consumers start to feel like they are being taken advantage of, that they are not being accorded the same respect here as they are abroad.”
Asked what it was doing to reassure Chinese consumers, Samsung said in a statement it is…