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Pandemic shifts smartphone buying online

More people in the UK are confident buying a mobile phone online and see less need to try before they buy, new research shows.

Buying phone online

It’s perhaps not surprising, with UK phone shops open only intermittently last year — and even then with social distancing and limited devices on display for hygiene reasons. In fact, less than 30% of the 1,020 mobile phone users surveyed by CCS Insight could even recall visiting a phone shop in the past six months.

Nearly two in every three people (63%) in the UK who bought a mobile phone last year did so online, compared with 52% in 2019 and just 36% in the prior year.

“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,” said Kester Mann, director of Consumer and Connectivity at CCS Insight. “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.”

Covid-19 wasn’t the only factor behind the accelerated shift online. The decision by Carphone Warehouse in March to close all of its standalone stores meant that more than 500 retail shops disappeared.

People were also prompted to buy online due to convenience, lower prices, already knowing which phone they wanted to buy, and not wanting a salesperson to influence their decision.

The complexity of buying a mobile phone contract, combined with people’s traditional preference to test the look and feel of a smartphone, has meant that phone shops have until now played a leading role in the overall phone buying process. This is now diminishing, CCS Insight believes.

Man on his phone

“The pandemic has brought permanent changes to the way people shop that will fuel further growth in online channels in the coming years,” Mann said.

Of course, phone shops aren’t just for buying a new phone. Survey respondents listed a wide range of other reasons why they might go into a store, including technical support, enquiring about their contract or bill, to browse or buy an accessory, or see or try new technology, such a virtual reality headset or smart home products.

Many also said they would be encouraged to return to the high street if there were more models on display, greater availability of stores, shorter queuing times and a more welcoming environment.

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


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