Hikvision USA Is Channel Stuffing

Author: John Honovich, Published on Sep 06, 2016

Hikvision USA is channel stuffing which:

  • Artificially inflates its revenue and hides losses
  • (Negatively for them) building to a financial fall
  • (Positively for them) risks causing 'starvation' for competitors

In this report, we examine what channel stuffing is, how Hikvision is doing this and what the likely outcomes are for them and the industry.

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Comments (52)

I understand your definition of "stuffing". Do you have confidential sales records of all Hikvision products sold in the USA at your disposal? Or guess work?

Seems to me to be another attempt to assault HikVision without known confidential facts that only HikVision corporate would know which that in itself is not nefarious in any way just typical business confidentiality.

A deduction based on available evidence is not a guess, especially when that deduction has been made by an experienced and qualified analyst, which John surely is.

without known confidential facts

We have the key facts, which is the series of promotions they have run end of quarter and now 'stock up' sales.

To how much stuffing has been accomplished, we would have to know how much more exactly dealers are holding in inventory now than before the sale. Even Hikvision's internal records would not show that. Only a dealer by dealer inventory would show that.

But the fact that Hikvision is encouraging stuffing and the reasonable deduction that dealers are now holding more inventory because of these 'stock up' sales makes this material.

Because of that, Hikvision can literally advertise stuffing, as shown in their promotion below, marked up by IPVM in yellow:

Are you saying that an American listed manufacturer could not run a sale that said "Stock Up!" ?

It is not an American vs Chinese issue, it is an American publicly traded company issue.

The US SEC cares about revenue recognition because it helps financial reporting to be more accurate. Channel stuffing undermines reporting by making current financial reporting look better than it otherwise is, which can hurt public investors, etc.

To that end, a company that is public traded in the US and overseen by the SEC, would be inviting scrutiny by running a promotion targeted at the channel encouraging them to 'stock up!"

Now, Hikvision is a Chinese government run stock exchange (Shenzhen) company so I doubt that is an issue for them. But, it is an issue when trying to analyze their financials / market position (like we have been doing with the sales and marketing cost series) because a fair analysis needs to unstuff.

It is not an American vs Chinese issue, it is an American publicly traded company issue.

I did say 'American listed manufacturer'.

I think the answer as to whether Hikvision is stuffing or not lies in whether their distributors are selling though inventory at a similar rate as they are taking it in.

2, I agree the inventory component is key. But even if, for example, ADI's inventory levels are unchanged (the distributor), the issue is still how much extra inventory is now being held by the dealers.

It's a tactic that worked well for Amazon.

John,

The assumption that they are channel stuffing relies on the premise that the demand on the integrator / end user is linear (inelastic pricing). I think with cheaper cameras companies can/have found new uses. We've started deploying Hik in things outside of the normal CCTV category because the costs have come down which has bolstered our demand as a dealer/integrator. I have talked to some large surveillance drone manufacturers and they are starting to do the same thing with increasing the amount of cameras and utilized on their offering due to the lower pricing from Hik. It's a classic elastic pricing situation.

The assumption that they are channel stuffing relies on the premise that the demand on the integrator / end user is linear (inelastic pricing).

No, absolutely not.

deploying Hik in things outside of the normal CCTV category because the costs have come down which has bolstered our demand as a dealer/integrator.

Agree, and totally believe you.

For sure, lower prices increase demands for most products, surveillance cameras, carrots, shampoo, etc.

What is key here is the short term time price cuts / promotions (including the 3 end of quarter ones in the past 3 quarters) that drive stocking up for the current quarter that would otherwise be bought in the next quarter.

To sum up, I agree that lower prices stimulate demand, in general. But time sensitive offers as Hikvision is structuring them, is shifting more demand into the current financial period than the next one, stuffing the channel with more inventory.

Is it possible that Hik is simply trying to push product through to end users at a higher rate? I know it says "Stock Up", but wouldn't that also lead the integrator to push harder to move said boxes? This may just be Hik nudging the market along, no? Stuffing may not be the end game, per se.

Jon, I do think the end game is to get end users to buy the products... eventually.

The issue is how many and for how long are products being kept in inventory for dealers until they get sold to end users. That's the 'stuff'.

'Stock up' for a limited time offer may make them push harder to move boxes but definitely makes them push harder to buy extra inventory when the promotion is valid.

Hikvision is offering Integrator's that are moving product a path to more savings by giving us a little bump at the end of the month.

So hats off to HIKVISION and Thank you Hikvision for looking out for us!

By the way ADI is not the only outlet for purchasing Hikvision so using their inventory as any indicator of actual sales is "folly".

By the way ADI is not the only outlet for purchasing Hikvision so using their inventory as any indicator of actual sales is "folly".

ADI is, by far, the largest Hikvision distributor in North America, period. But, to be clear, I am not looking at ADI's inventory, I am talking about the inventory that dealers are holding.

So hats off to HIKVISION and Thank you Hikvision for looking out for us!

For sure, as a dealer, this is a good deal, short term. Anytime a manufacturer offers 20% off across the board on anything you want in exchange for you holding extra inventory, that is a good deal for an integrator.

But long term this is a risk for Hikvision, both in terms of sacrificing a lot of margin for each sale and for getting addicted to these end of month / quarter / stock up sales to keep numbers moving.

Anytime a manufacturer offers 20% off across the board on anything you want in exchange for you holding extra inventory, that is a good deal for an integrator.

For the integrator the promo is likely a good deal in this case.

However, integrators should realize that bringing product into your own inventory/backroom does have costs involved for you--the integrator. Inventory Carrying Costs As the link indicates, if the product sits, deteriorates, becomes obsolete, or is handled often--your 20% deal may not be a deal in the long run.

integrators should realize that bringing product into your own inventory/backroom does have costs involved for you--the integrator.

Though with a 20% discount, that's probably large enough to cover most costs involved in holding inventory, especially since interest rates are so low.

This is an across the board worst case assumption that all integrators are buying, stashing and waiting (hoping) that one day a customer appears. All of the folks I talk to that are HIKVISION integrators are buying as much as we can afford at the time and selling it just as fast. We dont have old inventory problems, we have problems with the speed of ships getting here from China with more product so we can sell more.

Perhaps a consultation with Integrator's that prefer HIKVISION instead of detractors of the product would offer some insight into the facts.

Again......in this case it makes sense.

For the integrator the promo is likely a good deal in this case.

i.e. we are on the same page....yet the subject does merit an awareness of inventory carrying costs.....for non-Hik product, something not every integrator thinks about.

Should an integrator then consider reducing their slower turning inventory to minimize this exposure?

Yes, as well as to reduce warranty challenges......"it sat on my warehouse shelf for 6 months before I installed it" and the customer has only had it installed for 9 months and it failed......within its 12 month warranty.....I promise.....

Yes, as well as to reduce warranty challenges...... within its 12 month warranty.....

Not to steal Marty Calhoun's thunder here, but it's a 5 year warranty for most Hikvision dealers, no?

Just using a general example--not a Hikvision example. Buying the Hik at 20% and putting it into stock would generally be wise--as long as you can turn it.

It's 4 for gold/silver 5 if platinum if I remember correctly. So warranty would be an issue. Not to mention you can over the counter warranty Hik at most ADI locations.

So hats off to HIKVISION and Thank you Hikvision for looking out for us!

Wow... and I thought the Avigilon fanboys were bad.

Props on finding the right vehicle to win this race to the bottom, Marty.

But know that when you finally hit that bottom there's no rope coming from China

There is no race, its called a witch hunt propagated by a bunch of pissed off competitors that cannot handle the fact HIKVISION is an excellent product for a reasonable cost.

By the way I will think of you on the way to the Bank.....

I will think of you on the way to the Bank.....

But It will be a 'lighter trip" than one you would have made a few years ago.

Let's see how good you are at math - in which scenario (A or B) would you make more money?

A. 25% Margin on a $400 camera

B. 60% Margin on a $120 camera

:)

Let's see how good you are at math - in which scenario (A or B) would you make more money?

In defense of the Hikvision approach for integrators, they are still making more money. See: Axis, Avigilon and Hikvision Markups Revealed

The net/net is Hikvision's far lower pricing and continued price drops let their integrators (1) get higher margin percentages that deliver better profits per camera than Axis and (2) win more deals since their total price point is way lower than competitors offering Axis, Panasonic, Sony, etc.

I do believe Marty when he says he is taking it to the bank now. On the other hand, I also think Marty is failing to consider the negative issues that will arise with Hikvision's approach long term.

What alternative is there for Marty or any other integrator? If not Marty then someone else in his market will adopt the Hik approach and he will cede market share. It's already happening/has happened in our market. The next shift is cctv as a service which we are already experiencing in our market. It's all about lowering the cost of acquisition for customers.

To be honest a lot of the conversation from Integrators on IPVM has focused around this China vs Western manufactures debate with a bunch of mud slinging which isn't constructive at all.

Camera margins are going to continue to collapse regardless of what anyone on here says ill or positive of one manufacturer or another.

The real question is how do Integrators stay in business provided the math problem posed above? This is the new normal in a lot of markets and it won't be solved by sticking your head in the sand. The reality is that Hik makes a good product that fits a majority of deployment situations at a fraction of the price of Western manufacturers. However the first mover advantage is going to disappear pretty soon and already has in a lot of market. When can we have a constructive discussion on here about what to do after further margin compression on the product side with the current trajectory and how to keep revenue and the life time value of customers flat or growing?

I classify all sales in this industry into one of two categories: Commodity or Solution

A commodity sale is just that. Something everyone else is offering where price is the final (and most of the time only) criteria. That's your race to the bottom boys. Pretty soon you'll be selling cameras for $50 and with a 100% mark up. Those trips to the bank with that $25 profit aren't going to be that much fun

In a solution sale, the price is Never the final criteria (although it does have influence), and it's why those dealers that focus on delivering solutions will still be in business when the bottom truly does fall out of the commodity

Just my .02

What alternative is there for Marty or any other integrator? If not Marty then someone else in his market will adopt the Hik approach and he will cede market share

Tyler, I agree. It is easier for us to object since we do not sell or install cameras but if we did, it would be a very difficult issue.

Camera margins are going to continue to collapse regardless

That I do not agree about. On the one hand, I believe that direct from China spam mail approach is here to stay and will be sold at rock bottom prices (but with major limitations).

But the Hikvision approach of combining hugely expensive local sales, marketing and support with extremely low prices is economically unsustainable. I don't think we should conflate Hikvision's gambit for marketshare / fight with Dahua into what the long term stable market position will be once the fighting stops.

What alternative is there for Marty or any other integrator?

There must be alternatives. How does the automotive market support a Jaguar Dealer and a Kia Dealer?

Well, it would be a lot harder if the average car buyer couldn't tell the difference between a Kia and a Jaguar.

No one installs cameras for their viewing pleasure. It is born from necessity only. Cars, on the other hand, were born of necessity, but morphed into pleasure crafts and status symbols. Unless you can market the shit out of some Chinese cameras, there's little hope of making a fair comparison here.

Sell cameras on the internet for long enough and I absolutely guarantee that you will indeed hear from creepy weirdos people who install cameras for their viewing pleasure. Remember this lunatic delightful fellow?

No one installs cameras for their viewing pleasure.

Almost no one :)

On the other hand, I also think Marty is failing to consider the negative issues that will arise with Hikvision's approach long term.

Do you mean negative issues from Hik's approach that eveyone will be dealing with, e.g. no margin, less options, or negative issues that Marty and the Hik dealers will feel e.g. when Hik becomes oversaturated or China collapses or Trump gets elected?

If its the latter case, can't Marty and his men switch offerings at that point and still come out ahead, in other words, get it while the gettings good, then get out?

John as John Maynard Keynes said in the long run we're all dead.

Sorry to cheese up your scientific formula but you forgot one important component.

VOLUME and lots of it, more than 2, 3 or 4 years ago. And the margin,LOL keep guessing...

Stuffing is actually a nice word for it. What's really happening is that market share is being purchased by a powerful foreign entity entering a market in which they have a lot of freedom to act. Price can be the ultimate disruptive technology.

I remember after 9/11 the Wolves of Wall Street talked about how they were going to buy American. I think that lasted about 15 minutes.

It's a very real threat but the lesson is also very clear. Commoditized equipment is at the mercy of the low-priced supplier.

This is not channel stuffing, in the normal sense at least.

Investopedia says

Do we think that Hik is trying to artificially infate its sales and earnings numbers to fleece the Chinese Stock Market?

This is market flooding.

Also to note, channel stuffing can't take place every quarter, quarter after and now monthly stuffings?

The channel doesn't have infinite capacity. You have to let your breath out once in a while.

On top of that, it would be extremely hard to judge if someone was stuffing at all when they are growing at 50% a year.

This is market flooding, and its far more dangerous than stuffing because irs directed at the others in the industry, not at the investment community.

This is market flooding.

There can certainly be made a case for that as well.

channel stuffing can't take place every quarter, quarter after and now monthly stuffings?

But Hikvision only really ramped these time sensitive / end of quarter / stock up promotions 10 months ago so, while I agree that you can't do it forever, they have not been doing it so long that it is done. That said, I am curious what Hikvision does end of this September after their two biggest stock up sales yet. The more you do it, the closer you get to saturation.

So hats off to HIKVISION...

Why not, we already lost our shirts.

I use only Hikvision and I don't stock anymore than I need for service issues or a fast install.

Why load up because price will go down and you end up with higher cost inventory. Also obsolete material is a great risk. Besides as one gentleman says, many times we are waiting for the ship from China to dock.

I appreciate the price reductions as I can sell many more systems as people can afford it. Anyone ever seen marketing one oh one called the price volume curve.

As far as public companies stuffing channels theres an old competitor of mine that is still around that did it for years at the end of every quarter, if they needed more revenue to meet the analysts estimates, sure isn't anything new. Nothing ever happened to them.

There is some school of thought if your inventory is on the shelf and the competitors is not you get the sale they don't. I did it for many years. Works great!!!

"Anyone ever seen marketing one oh one called the price volume curve."

But economics one oh one says to maximize profit and you don't do that by maxing out volume at the expense of profit margins.

Take someone like you:

"I use only Hikvision"

There are lots of people like you (e.g., Marty) who are willing to pay much more for Hikvision. These across the board price cuts undermine Hikvision's ability to make profits from their most loyal customers.

I get that it is great as a buyer but that does not make it a rational profit maximizing technique for the seller.

Well there are some assumptions being made, whats better selling 100K a year at 50% gross margin or 500K a year at 35%? Because if my total price is too high in my market I lose customers to DIY crap or they don't buy at all. Motion sensor business was similar, I made sure I was at the front end of the curve getting the business by reducing cost for more sophisticated devices. We made much more money this way.

I also do straight leases and the lower the cost the more I make. Actually a lot of times I have the options to go high or low and getting the video job gets me the burglar alarm RMR, many times more than not actually.

In my business, the video equipment prices going lower actually helps me make a lot more money in various ways. I suspect many other dealers are the same.

whats better selling 100K a year at 50% gross margin or 500K a year at 35%?

That's not anywhere close to realistic.

Larry, let's say you and I go into business together, selling widgets. We make them for $10 per widget.

First, we sell them for $20 per widget at a 50% gross margin, selling 100K a year. Then I come to you and say "Hey if we cut the price of our widgets to $15.50 per widget at a 35% gross margin, we will sell 500K next year."

A 23% price cut is just not delivering a 500% increase in volume (or a 300%+ increase in total revenue as your example presumes).

I am not objecting to the fundamental point that lowering prices increases volume, I am objecting to the massive jump in volume you are offering here.

In my business, the video equipment prices going lower actually helps me make a lot more money in various ways. I suspect many other dealers are the same.

Totally 100% agree with you. When the cost of a company's inputs goes down (e.g., cameras to integrators), the company (integrator) can profit significantly. What I am questioning is the rationale / profitability / feasibility to the supplier of the inputs.

First, we sell them for $20 per widget at a 50% gross margin, selling 100K a year. Then I come to you and say "Hey if we cut the price of our widgets to $15.50 per widget at a 35% gross margin, we will sell 500K next year."

How about

First, we sell them for $20 per widget at a 50% gross margin, selling 100K a year. Then I come to you and say "Hey if we cut the price of our widgets to $15.50 per widget at a 35% gross margin, we will sell 190K next year, thereby putting enormous pressure on our competitors and still make the same profit"

How about

#1, I can always count on you!

Yes, I agree with your math. Technically, you do not even need 190K, 'all' you need is 185K to generate the same total dollars of gross margin.

But is that easy?

This requires a 23% price cut to deliver a 85% increase in volume, by itself with no increases in overhead, like R&D, marketing, offices, business development, etc.

Do you think a 23% price cut will deliver 85% increase in volume by itself? I don't. There's lot of other reasons that buyers don't buy Hikvision (or Axis or Brand X, etc.) that have nothing to do with price. This is not a criticism of Hikvision, I don't think any surveillance manufacturer can cut prices by 23% and expect anywhere close to an 85% increase in volume as a result.

This requires a 23% price cut to deliver a 85% increase in volume...

Since we're sharpening our pencils, where did the 23% figure come from? The latest cut is only 20%, and the others were less.

...by itself with no increases in overhead, like R&D, marketing, offices, business development, etc.

Why would a price cut increase R&D?

What greater volume can do though, is increase gross and net margins, thru greater purchasing power and operations scaling.

I would agree with you that Hik might not profit anytime soon with this strategy but who said price wars are rational events to begin with?

where did the 23% figure come from

It's from Larry's scenario of "whats better selling 100K a year at 50% gross margin or 500K a year at 35%"

If you cut gross margins from 50% to 35%, it effectively decreases the price by 23% (e.g., $20 price vs $10 cost = 50% gross margin vs $15.40 price vs $10 cost = 35% gross margin; $20 cut to $15.40 is 23% price cut).

Why would a price cut increase R&D?

I am not saying a price cut would impact R&D. I am saying that to increase volume sold by 85% it is very hard to do it just by cutting prices. There are other factors that determine what buyers buy - like being better known (marketing), having better products (R&D), more meetings with end users (business development) and all of that increases overhead, which needs to be paid out of gross margin.

In other words, it is why no video surveillance manufacturer willingly accepts a 15% gross margin. Sure, that would allow them to significantly reduce costs but there are a lot of necessary overhead costs that could not be paid with such a low gross margin.

What greater volume can do though, is increase gross and net margins, thru greater purchasing power and operations scaling.

According to Hikvision's 2015 annual report, they sold 47.7 million units last year (cameras and recorders). Because of that already huge level, I do not think there is that much to gain incrementally in terms of scale.

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