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iPhone 8 may be Apple's least popular model in China

Ahead of iPhone X’s launch, Chinese e-commerce sites are slashing prices on the iPhone 8 to encourage sales.

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The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus arrived last month, but Chinese buyers don't seem too interested.

James Martin/CNET

China is one of Apple's biggest markets, but it seems the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus aren't doing too well there.

As the launch of Apple's iPhone X looms, Chinese e-commerce sites are offering discounts on the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus in hopes of spurring sales, South China Morning Post reported Monday. The cheapest 64GB iPhone 8 model, which is priced at 5,888 yuan (about $885, £670, AU$1,155) on Apple's official site in China, will cost 4,788 yuan (about $720, £545, AU$940) after the discount on Suning.com, putting it at nearly 20 percent lower than Apple's official price.

The iPhone has been losing its luster in China, where Apple has faced increased competition from local brands such as Huawei, Oppo and Vivo. Apple is doing what it can to improve its standing in the world's biggest phone market, including the appointment of its first managing director in China over the summer

The price cut on Chinese e-commerce platforms comes after smaller-than-expected crowds were observed at the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus launch event across China last month. However, Chinese internet users and local media have suggested it was likely because more people are taking the more convenient option of buying the phones online.

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There are others who have speculated that people are holding out for the iPhone X, which is set to launch Friday but will be hard to come by. Apple has high expectations for the iPhone X, and last week encouraged buyers to start queuing for the phone early. Research analysts also expect the iPhone X to bump up phone sales globally next year.

"The demand for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus was lower than expected, and consumers are all waiting for the iPhone X," IDC research analyst Tay Xiaohan said. She added that the 8 range being visually almost identical to the previous few years' iterations was a key reason Chinese buyers have opted not to splurge on an iPhone 8.

A senior analyst in China told SCMP that discounts on iPhones are unprecedented, suggesting that the iPhone 8 could be the "most poorly sold flagship iPhone model" so far in China. Recalling the iPhone 7 launch in 2016, the analyst said the models were still hard to locate in the market even a month after the phone was released, prompting buyers to compete online.

Apple did not immediately respond to CNET's request for a comment.

Update, 2:50 p.m. AEST: Adds IDC comment. 

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