Counterpoint: refurbished smartphone market beats expectations to grow 15% in 2021

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The market for refurbished smartphones grew 15% in 2021 compared to the year before, outpacing the 4.5% growth of the new smartphone market. Counterpoint Research reports that refurbished units have been gaining in popularity among consumers and smartphone makers alike.

The switch to 5G pushed many users to upgrade and, interestingly, the higher sales of new units helped boost the sales of renewed units. Many vendors have turned to trade-in deals to lower the purchase cost of new models, which in turn increased the availability of units that can be refurbished and sold again.

Cost saving is a big factor of why people go with refurbished over new – a phone on the second hand market can be 60% cheaper on average than a new unit. The two markets that saw the biggest growth are Latin America (+29%) and India (+25%).

However, mature markets like the US (+15%), Europe (+10%) and China (+10%) also saw people buying restored phones in increasing numbers. Those markets are feeling a cash crunch too, but there’s more to it than that.

Counterpoint: the refurbished smartphone market grew 15% in 2021, beating expectations

Sustainability and an eco-friendly initiatives are becoming more popular with consumers and getting a refurbished phone instead of a new one is a great way to reduce e-waste. These initiatives are gaining traction with manufacturers and carriers as well, though their main focus remains on profitability.

“In the EU, government initiatives are helping secondary market sales. Carriers are also making efforts to use more secondary market devices with e-waste reduction goals. Finally, EU marketplaces and collection companies – Back Market and EcoATM being examples – are growing their presence,” writes Research Director Jeff Fieldhack.

So, it’s not just OEMs and carriers, third parties are expanding their renewed phone business too. This was enabled by the growing Right to Repair movement in Europe, the US and Japan as companies opened up access to genuine parts and tools to non-affiliated repair shops.

Apple’s iPhones still lead the second-hand market, but Samsung models are gaining in popularity too and closing the gap.

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