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Xiaomi to open online store in U.S., but no phones for now

Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi is making a tentative move into the U.S. market with the launch of an online store.

We say ‘tentative’ because its e-commerce site, which is expected to hit the Web in the next few months, won’t be selling the company’s phones or tablets. Instead, you’ll only be able to browse other Xiaomi items like fitness bands and headphones. For now, at least.

Related: Xaomi launches the powerful Mi Note and Mi Note Pro

Speaking at a special company event in San Francisco on Thursday, Xiaomi co-founder Bin Lin said that as things stand, the company has no intention of selling its mobile devices through the site, claiming product certification challenges. Despite his position, the fast-growing company is surely eyeing a bigger U.S. launch – with a selection of its mobile devices – in the not-too-distant future.

Indeed, its international chief, former Google executive Hugo Barra, said as much, telling the gathering, “The amount of effort required to bring those products to the market is an incredible amount of work. We’re accelerating our entry by bringing simpler products.”

But the company’s cautious approach will surely come as a disappointment to many U.S.-based smartphone fans keen to see increased competition in the market, while its Web store is certain to feel decidedly empty, deprived of the products for which it’s famous.

Rapid success

Xiaomi, which currently operates in eight markets, has enjoyed rapid success in the smartphone sector, especially on its home turf where it’s giving giants like Apple and Samsung a run for their money. Last year it sold around 61 million phones, more than three times what it sold a year earlier.

Related: Xiaomi sells more than 1.1 million phones in a single, record-breaking day

The Beijing-based firm launched its first handset in 2011 and has gone on to develop a strong online-only business model, a success that certainly augurs well for its U.S. initiative.

The company has built a sizable following in its four-year history thanks to a shrewd marketing strategy that includes one-off promo events and clever control of its sales channels to help drive demand. More importantly, the company offers powerful, slickly designed handsets at reasonable prices, with its locally relevant MIUI customized Android overlay a popular feature among buyers.

Its way of doing business has impressed rivals so much that Lenovo, for example, has been compelled to launch a new brand this year aimed at making a success of selling smartphones online, although for now all eyes will be on whether Xiaomi’s e-commerce efforts in the U.S. develop into something bigger for the company over the next couple of years.