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More than $2bn returned to US consumers through mobile device trade-ins in 2020

Market falls back, but old comms devices maintain value in 2020 despite Covid-19, with $786m returned to US consumers in Q4 2020 alone, representing a 38% rise from Q3 for the secondary device market

A year ago as the major economies were closing down and sending people home to work and learn, there were major fears that the Covid-19 pandemic would have a huge impact on the global smartphone and secondary device markets, as well as retail shutdowns, but research from HYLA has revealed that money returned to US consumers via trade-ins fell by just 11% in 2020.

HYLA releases data on mobile device trade-in trends both on a quarterly and annual basis. By combining live market data with data from its analytics platform Device IQ, trends are identified on the trade-in value of devices, the top-traded smartphones and wearables, as well as the average age of smartphones at the point of trade-in.

The annual report of the secondary device market revealed that a total of $2.11bn was returned to US consumers in 2020 through mobile device trade-in programmes. The fourth quarter of the year, historically a strong quarter for mobile device upgrades and trade-ins, proved to be particularly resilient given market conditions.

The fourth-quarter trends report showed $786m was returned to US consumers via trade-ins – an increase of 38% over the third quarter ($569m).

In 2019, a more typical increase of 19% from the third quarter to the fourth quarter was reported. Along with year-on-year (YoY) growth, the fourth-quarter report revealed that the average trade-in value for a smartphone was $138.16, which is a 14% increase from the third quarter ($121.03), and a 23% increase from the fourth quarter of 2019 ($112.27).

Typically, the third and fourth quarters are when the service provider sees the most trade-ins take place owing to new device launches, Black Friday, the holiday season and promotions from operators, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and retailers around these occasions. HYLA observed that with the iPhone 12 launch taking place in October, it was no surprise the fourth quarter had been a strong quarter, even given the circumstances of the pandemic.

As has generally been the case for some time, the study found that iPhones accounted for the top five devices traded-in for 2020. The top-traded device of the year was the iPhone 7, followed by the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone 7 Plus.

The iPhone 7 was the top-traded device for 2019 and three of the four quarters during 2020, falling to the fourth most-traded device in the fourth quarter of 2020 behind the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and the iPhone X. This, said HYLA, was likely due to strong iPhone 12 upgrade promotions when trading in an iPhone 8 or newer iPhone device.

In the Android environment, the Samsung Galaxy S9 was the top-traded device of 2020, and the top-traded Android device in the third and fourth quarters. The Samsung Galaxy S7 was the top-traded Android device during the first adn second quarters.

The average trade-in value for an iPhone in 2020 was $169.85, while the average trade-in value for an Android smartphone was $95.37. Overall, the average value of device at trade-in was $124.51.

Assessing the longer term trends revealed in the report, HYLA said that while the impact of the coronavirus pandemic had a substantial and long-lasting effect on the global smartphone and secondary device market, the fourth quarter of 2020 demonstrated a strong bounce back, and the company predicted that 2021 would have more of the same in the pipeline. Operators, retailers and OEMs should see stronger revenue thanks to the adoption of 5G and an increase in trade-ins, it added.

“2020 was a year that no one could have ever predicted, and it has been difficult for operators, retailers,and OEMs to find their footing amongst the ever-changing normal,” said Biju Nair, executive vice-president and president of global trade-in and upgrades at HYLA.

“But given the impact of the pandemic on the smartphone market, the secondary device market has been strong. Thanks to the trade-in promotions and availability of 5G-ready devices, the 5G upgrade and trade-in supercycle is already underway.

“Not only did we register a 175% increase of contactless trade-in transactions in 2020 over 2019, but we are seeing trade-in values staying strong as consumers look to get their hands on the latest devices.”

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