The wireless mobile industry is ever-changing. We continuously see new technologies like 5G transforming the landscape, the competitive dynamic shifting between long time incumbents and new entrants, and the criticality of responding to changes in consumer behavior. Below are some of the bigger megatrends we see affecting our industry and the mobile device lifecycle.

 

Megatrend #1: Consumers are holding on to their devices for a LOT longer

This might be obvious to many of you, but let’s look at the facts that back this up.  In 2016, consumers were keeping their devices for approximately two years. Since then, the price of a smartphone has increased by 38% and today many exceed $1,000. So not surprisingly, consumers are not upgrading as often as they used to.  According to our latest Mobile Trade-in and Upgrade Trends Report we have seen that consumers are now holding on to their devices for over three years.

As consumers keep their devices longer, the likelihood of experiencing a problem with it increases. Which leads us to Megatrend #2.
 

 

Megatrend #2:  Device support and repair needs are increasing

A broken phone used to mean that you would replace it with a new or refurbished unit - either through an insurance claim or by purchasing it through a carrier, OEM, or retailer. As these devices are now more expensive and consumers do not want to live even a day without them, they have actively and increasingly embraced device repair options instead of replacement as a default.

In addition, when we surveyed mobile phone device protection customers we found they no longer solely look to the carrier channels to solve their problem. We see that they are openly embracing non-carrier owned repair services and with many opting for these alternative channels for repair today. In support of this, the data shows retail repair revenues in non-carrier stores have grown by over 56% since 2017.

At some point, though, the consumer will be ready to part with their device and upgrade to a new one. This brings us to our third megatrend.

 

Megatrend #3: Used device residual value is substantial

Trade-in programs for old devices have become more popular. These programs provide an easy, more affordable way to help consumers upgrade to a new device. They can also be a way to attract new customers. Overall, trade-in programs are a win-win for both consumers and companies.

The average value of a device traded in has increased by over 70% since 2019 and is now over $200 in the secondary market. It is estimated that 130 million people in North America will buy a new device this year and over 25% of them will trade in their old device. This is expected to result in over $7 billion in value through trade-in programs.

However, of those 130 million people, 35% of them will NOT trade-in that old device when they buy a new one.  They will keep their old device and it will end up languishing in a drawer. This equates to $9 billion of potential untapped value to capture through trade-in programs.

Not only is the average resale value increased on pre-owned devices, but the demand has also increased. Read on to learn how the refurbished device sales is outpacing new device sales.

 

Megatrend #4:  Pre-owned device sales are EXPLODING

From 2017 through 2020, we saw a yearly decline in new smartphone shipments in North America. We are starting to see growth again, but it is modest. According to IDC, there were 161 million new devices shipped in the region, and it is expected to grow to 172 million by 2025.

Conversely, the sale of refurbished units into North America has steadily risen since 2017 and is expected to continue. In fact, its growth has been outpacing new shipment sales growth during this time period. In 2017, refurbished units made up only 13% of new and used shipments and by 2025 it is predicted it will make up a third of the shipments.

The pre-owned devices entering the secondary market tend to be good quality units as durability has improved, first owners are taking better care of them, and repair capabilities have improved.  This has clearly resulted in more people finding used devices an attractive option for themselves.

Our fifth megatrend focuses on the consumer at the point where they are upgrading their device and deciding on trade-in. We need to meet them where they are while providing flexibility and convenience.

 

Megatrend #5:  Consumers now expect omni-channel solutions

The pandemic has accelerated consumers’ attitudes and behaviors about buying just about anything online.  And we see that carriers, OEMs and retailers are very much focusing on transforming the way their distribution channels operate and are moving from multi-channel to omni-channel. They aim not only for delivering a consistent and quality experience across channels, but increasingly to provide interoperability across those channels.

When purchasing a new device, consumers want the ability to not just buy in-store but also to buy online and have the option to pick up in-store. They want that same flexibility in conducting a trade; to trade-in a device at the same time when purchasing their phone at a store or online and then dropping off in a store or by mail.

Businesses that fail to respond to this change in consumer behavior risk falling behind, as consumers continue to shift their attention to online channels.

 

A Constantly Evolving Industry

Consumers are holding on to their devices longer and therefore we are seeing greater need for protecting the devices on which they are so reliant. When these devices do get traded in, they still have considerable latent value, and there is increased demand for these pre-owned devices around the globe. Trade-in programs are valuable within the wireless ecosystem, but it starts with the consumer. Collectively, we need to make it as attractive and convenient for the consumer to turn in their device in order to feed the demand we are seeing in the secondary market. These five megatrends are significantly shaping the customer device lifecycle experience and, as a result, our businesses and the solutions we offer.