Two in five mobile phones have a second life

May 26, 2017

It may seem that no kitchen drawer is quite complete without the obligatory discarded mobile phone, but new research from Mintel on mobile phones in the UK reveals that two in five (39%) smartphones in the UK are enjoying a new lease of life.

The research shows that while many of the nation’s smartphones are benefitting from a second life, only about half of these ‘second-life’ phones are exchanged for money. Some 18% of smartphone owners say that when they last upgraded their device they passed their old smartphone onto a friend or family member for free, while just one fifth (21%) say they put their previous smartphone on the second-hand market. For those selling their old phones, hard cash is by far the preferred option with 8% of owners having sold their phone online and another 6% selling it to a retailer in exchange for cash. Over half (58%) of consumers planning to upgrade their smartphone in the next two years believe that you can get more money if you sell an old smartphone to someone else than if you trade it in, and in fact, a slim 4% say they traded their last smartphone for credit towards the new device.

While many choose to part with their old handset for cash, almost one third (32%) of Brits keep their old device as a spare. Consumers aged over 45 are considerably more likely to have kept their phone as a spare, at 37% compared to 29% of those aged 16-44. By contrast, Brits aged between 16-24 are the least likely to give their phone a second life, with 49% saying their previous smartphone had no second life, compared to an average of 45% of Brits, which is likely to be a result of this age group’s stronger tendency to have had their last phone broken, lost or stolen*.

Sara Ballaban, Senior Technology Analyst at Mintel, said:

“As the sharing economy has evolved into the selling economy, consumers are increasingly aware of the value of their time, belongings and skills and try to monetise them as much as possible. Twenty-four-month upgrade cycles have, therefore, encouraged consumers to make the most of the residual value of their existing device in order to offset the cost of upgrading. However, keeping the old device as a spare remains the most popular option among UK’s smartphone owners. This is highly influenced by the fact that smartphones have become such a fundamental part of consumers’ lives. For many, it would be unthinkable to give up their smartphone, meaning that consumers may be planning ahead in case something goes wrong with their main device.”

While two thirds (65%) of smartphone owners plan to invest in a new smartphone in the next two years, many are reluctant to buy a used handset. Indeed, 47% of smartphone owners say that they wouldn’t buy a second-hand smartphone. Moreover, for those considering the second-hand option, buying from family and friends is the most likely choice, with 36% of smartphone owners saying they would consider buying from their loved ones. And when it comes to the type of phone they plan to purchase, seven in 10 (71%) smartphone owners who are planning on a device upgrade in the next two years say that they would most likely buy a new smartphone by the same manufacturer as their current handset.

Paying for smartphones in full at the time of purchase is the preferred option for today’s smartphone users, with some 45% having chosen this payment method compared to 39% who are paying for their device in instalments. Around one in seven (14%) owners were lucky enough to have received their smartphone as a gift.

The ability to upgrade freely is most likely to be the incentive that encourages the majority (51%) of men to prefer to pay in full when purchasing a smartphone. By contrast, 41% of women opt to pay for their device in instalments, compared to 36% of men; and women are also more likely than men to have received their smartphone as a gift, with 17% of women having done so compared to 11% of men.

“The reasons why consumers prefer to own their smartphone outright are varied, ranging from personal financial situation and credit score to the ability to freely upgrade to a new device at any time. However, the introduction of manufacturers’ yearly upgrade programmes and retailers’ credit options are giving consumers more options to pay for smartphones in instalments without being tied to an operator.” Sara adds.

Finally, the ongoing issue of phone battery blues makes longer battery life by far the most important feature for smartphone owners when looking to upgrade. Some 66% of Brits say this would be the most important feature when buying a new phone. The next most important features looked for when upgrading is improved camera resolution (36%) and being waterproof (27%). In addition, one quarter of consumers look for a bigger screen than their current smartphone (25%) and wireless charging (25%).mit

“To cater to the need for longer battery life, manufacturers and retailers could show battery life in terms of key activities performed on the device such as texting, listening to music or using social media, as opposed to the more traditional standby battery time.” Sara concludes.

*4% of smartphone owners aged 16-34 say that their last smartphone was lost/stolen, compared to 1% aged over 35.

Press review copies of the report and interviews with Sara Ballaben, Senior Technology Analyst at Mintel, are available on request from the press office.


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