69% of people won't upgrade smartphones amid the economic crisis

More than half are holding off upgrading altogether, and 12% said they would upgrade to a less expensive model, Ting Mobile found.

Woman using smartphone. The concept of using the phone is essential in everyday life.

Image: iStockphoto/Sitthiphong

The majority of smartphone users (69%) who initially planned on upgrading devices this year have changed their plans, a Ting report found. The data, released on Thursday, determined that 55% of people are holding off upgrading for now, 12% will upgrade to a less expensive model, and 2% will buy a used phone instead. 

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In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, consumers have realigned their purchasing priorities, focusing on essential items rather than tech upgrades. COVID-19 has resulted in the worst decline in global smartphone sales ever, according to Gartner, with a 20% drop in the first quarter of 2020. 

"Cell phones are all but essential today, but spending $1,000 on a phone isn't. The de facto two-year upgrade cycle as a standard is dead. We already saw a trend toward people holding onto their phones for longer in our Phone Upgrade Survey released in August of 2019," said Andrew Moore-Crispin, director of content at Ting. 

"Then, before coronavirus hit, 55% of people reported holding onto their phones for more than three years. Now, as we face the realities of coronavirus and its impact, we expect to see this phone upgrade cycle continue or lengthen," Moore-Crispin said. 

How mobile has changed in the economic climate 

Despite the hesitation toward upgrading, the majority (85%) of respondents said they consider cell phone service an essential expense, which is significant since the coronavirus pandemic has shed light onto what items are deemed essential.

Of the small group of respondents (15%) who do not find smartphone service essential, 52% earn less than $50,000 in annual household income a year and 30% are above the age of 55, the report found. 

Ultimately, most respondents (78%) said they don't plan on changing their current cell phone service. But of those who do plan to, some 48% said they make less than $50,000 in annual household income and are between the ages of 25 and 44 years old (54%), according to the report. 

Consumers still prefer buying phones outright 

Even though money is tight, consumers still prefer to pay for their phones up front rather than finance. Some 62% said they would buy outright, while 38% said they would finance their phone purchase, the report found. 

Of those who choose to finance, the majority (83%) said they turned to their mobile carriers to finance devices. Nearly half (47%) said they rolled the cost of their phone into their overall mobile phone bill and 36% said they had a clear financing charge on their mobile phone bill. 

People are split down the middle as to whether financing a phone is a smart money move or not, however. College students and millennials were more likely to finance their phones: 64% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 60% of 25- and 34-year-olds support phone financing. 

Older customers, on the other hand, find financing less appealing, with 57% of people older than 55 not in favor, the report found. 

Outlook on phone trade-ins

Financing and trading in phones often go hand-in-hand, according to the report. 

Some 64% of people who financed their phones said they have also traded in their device when upgrading. Most people (63%) said they traded in their phone through their carrier's program, the report found. 

Respondents were split on whether or not trading in your phone offers a good return: 54% said it does and 46% said it doesn't. 

Trade-in programs were most popular with younger mobile uses, the report found. Some 63% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 64% of 25- to 34-year-olds said they have traded in their phones before. By contrast, the majority (60%) of people older than 55 said they have never traded in a phone, the report found. 

For more, check out COVID-19 fuels a drop in new smartphone sales, an upswing for recycled phones on TechRepublic. 

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