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CCS Insight: Online phone sales surge driven by pandemic

Paul Lipscombe
January 25, 2021

Consumers find convenience in buying phones online, but the high-street

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a shift to online sales for the UK’s mobile phone outlets according to CCS Insight.

CCS Insight’s latest annual Mobile Phone Survey revealed that nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of mobile phone purchases were done via online last year.

This is in comparison to 52 per cent in 2019, with the number significantly less in 2018 at just 36 per cent as the Covid-19 pandemic drives online sales.

This is due to the UK’s phone shops being open intermittently throughout 2020, with various lockdowns imposed by the government.

And this has meant that consumers have moved away from the ‘try before you buy’ approach and grown in confidence to buy online.

CCS Insight director of consumer and connectivity Kester Mann said: “Rather than waiting for normality to return to the high street, connectivity-hungry Brits are happy to buy devices without seeing them in the flesh first.

“Our survey results reflect a growing confidence to buy based on listed features, a familiarity with the leading brands, their design and how they work, and recommendations from friends and family.”

Online savvy consumers

However the pandemic alone hasn’t been the only factor in the growing shift of online sales.

It follows Carphone Warehouse closing over 500 standalone retail stores last year to focus its attention to online instead as part of a business restructure.

In the survey – which polled 1,020 UK respondents – consumers cited convenience, lower prices and already knowing what they want to buy as key reasons why they buy online instead.

With CCS Insight also finding that more people carry out research online about a device (40 per cent) than visiting a store (22 per cent).

Mann expects this trend to continue: “The pandemic has brought permanent changes to the way people shop that will fuel further growth in online channels in the coming years.”

But there is still a need for the retail stores, says CCS Insight, as 20 per cent of survey respondents last visited a store for tech support and 13pc had bill queries.

Mann added: “Phone shops will remain a vital channel for the industry, but it’s clear their role is evolving. Retailers need to find the right balance between selling, supporting customers and showcasing new technology to create some much-needed buzz for the sector.

“Successful companies will be those best able to integrate their strategy for retail and online selling, offering customers a coherent and complementary experience at every step of the way.”

Trade-ins growth

Another rising trend was highlighted in the survey, with the prominence of phone trade-ins revealed.

CCS Insight found that just over a fifth (21pc) have sold or part-exchanged a mobile with either an operator or device maker, up from 16pc a year ago, while 80pc of respondents said they would be willing to part-exchange when buying their next phone.

These trade-ins are helping to drive the refurbished smartphone market, with CCS Insight estimating over three million refurbished units were sold last year in the UK.

As the pandemic continues this market is expected to grow further as people tighten their disposable spend.

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