iClout: Status symbol for rent in Indonesia

Photo: Coconuts Media
Photo: Coconuts Media

There was no pretense whatsoever. “Would you like to appear elegant in front of your colleagues? Just rent here,” the copy for a recent ad reads, promoting iPhones, Airpods, and Macbooks for rent.

The latest iPhone lineup starts from IDR13 million (US$905) in Indonesia. That’s about six times the price of an entry-level phone by Xiaomi, the brand which took the largest slice of the country’s smartphone market share in 2021. Most Indonesians, a study says, spend less than IDR2.5 million on a phone — to buy outright, that is.

As practical as these budget phones are, they probably stay in the purse during kondangan (major events, like weddings). There’s an abundance of non-obscuring phone cases for iPhones sold at Indonesian marketplaces rather than for, say, an Oppo.

So go on and “buy experiences, not things,” the tagline for phone rental business Byebeli (bye to buying) reads. It’s clear here that “things” refer to Apple devices, while “experiences” mostly refer to feeling affluent from flaunting the company’s logo and the iPhone’s iconic three-camera arrangement.

But that iPhone wouldn’t be yours.

For around IDR300K, you can hold on to one of the latest iPhone models for a full day. There are, of course, more economical price options for longer rental periods.

“[For our customers], the need for an iPhone is incidental — not for daily use. And those who rent iPhones from us don’t rent for months. If they were renting for several months, then it would be better to just buy one,” Byebeli owner Jeffry told Coconuts.

Let’s do the math: The new iPhone 13 costs IDR15 million for the 128GB storage option at an official retailer. Credit card holders can stretch out that payment with no interest over 24 months at IDR625 thousand per month. Other payment options that offer installments often charge interest.

The problem is, credit card adoption in Indonesia is low, albeit growing. In Jakarta, which has the highest provincial minimum wage in Indonesia at just over IDR4.5 million, IDR625 thousand could represent as much as 13 percent of one’s monthly earnings.

“So customers rent [iPhones] for important events or specific activities only, at a duration of one to three days,” Jeffry continued.

Though vanity undoubtedly drives Byebeli’s business, Jeffry was keen to stress that there are other motivations for renting an iPhone.

“It’s not just for style. Before the pandemic, there was enthusiasm for [renting iPhones] for vanity and for taking holiday shots. But after the pandemic there have been many people who need [iPhones] to take good photos of products to sell online, or for content making on TikTok and Instagram,” he said.

Leesha*, an office worker, owns a Vivo phone, but you might see her flaunting an iPhone on weekends thanks to businesses like Byebeli.

“I go all out to look my best at wedding parties. Accessories-wise, it’s only apt to have the most glamorous device on me,” she said.

“But would I rent an iPhone to go on a date? Probably not,” she laughed. “My prospective partner would have to accept me as I am, iPhone or no iPhone. Besides, that would be an expensive date.”

Hafidh, a former news cameraman, is still passionate about the world of videography on top of his office day job. He has been toying with the idea of doing freelance shooting and editing work, but has been held back by one major hurdle: expensive gear.

“On two occasions, I convinced myself to buy a Macbook Pro for editing, but I ended up using them mostly for typing, and rarely for video editing,” he said, adding that ownership of DSLR cameras and Macbooks doesn’t make sense for the occasional freelancer like him.

Hafidh no longer owns a Macbook, but is enticed by the idea that the Apple laptop is available for rent should he need it for future gigs. Macbooks have superior functionality for video editing, he opined, even though he laments how Apple removed the backlit logo from the latest models.

“There’s one annoying aspect [about Macbooks], that being their price,” he chuckled.

For a personal shoot, Hafidh recalls renting a DSLR camera for IDR500 thousand per day and a Macbook for IDR200 thousand per day from a friend. He has been tempted to rekindle his desire to expand his video portfolio with the rise of rental services like Byebeli, and said he might even explore shooting with an iPhone.

Steady demand will likely keep businesses like Byebeli flourishing for some time yet. Starting as a motorcycle rental business in Bali in 2016, expanding its products-for-rent list to include iPhones, laptops, and SLR cameras has allowed Byebeli to set up shops in the Greater Jakarta Area, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Surabaya in recent years.

“Business has been quite decent. Every weekend [the iPhones] are always fully booked,” Jeffry said.


*Leesha’s real name has been omitted at her request.

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