Refurbished technology gains popularity as a cost-saving choice

Kantar study reveals consumers’ changing behaviour – leading a greener future into sustainable consumer technology.
28 June 2023
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Jack Hamlin

Global Client Director ComTech, Worldpanel Division

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Latest Kantar’s Worldpanel ComTech study sheds light on the evolving attitudes and actions of consumers in relation to climate change and sustainability by uncovering the following key behaviours:

  • As the world grapples with the increasing frequency of climate-related emergencies, consumers are showing a growing concern for urgent action.
  • 86% of consumers agree there is a need for urgent action to address climate change.
  • 45% of people face social or financial constraints when trying to act sustainably.
  • Refurbished technology has emerged as a solution to e-waste and cost-saving.
  • Only 3% of consumers purchase their phones with the intention of minimising environmental impact.

Wildfires in Canada recently enveloped New York City in smoke, highlighting yet another natural disaster attributed to our planet's increasing temperatures. Emergencies from afar elicit sympathy, emergencies from nearby elicit fear. As climate-related emergencies continue to rise, consumers' concerns are also growing. According to Kantar's Sustainable Transformation paper, 86% of consumers agree with the statement, "There is a need for urgent action to address climate change". This sentiment is expected to increase as more consumers directly experience the impacts of a warming planet. And Worldpanel’s Who, Cares? Who Does? report found that 45% of people said that they agree or strongly agree to the statement “I have found it harder to act sustainably recently due to social or financial constraints”.

However, consumers in the technology industry have other priorities besides sustainability. Kantar’s Worldpanel ComTech continuous, longitudinal tracker reports on one-month ending sales until May 2023 in Europe and the US. Only 3% of consumers purchased their phones with the intention of minimising environmental impact. Merely 3% were influenced by a brand's commitment to the environment, while 1% chose their phones because of repairable parts or the use of recycled components.

Although sustainability is not front of mind for consumers buying technology, it is often a secondary benefit. Consumer technology sits separately from many other industries when it comes to sustainability and pricing. For most FMCG categories, a preference for sustainability requires consumers to pay a premium.

Yet refurbished smartphones afford price conscious consumers an opportunity to get a smartphone at a lower price point, popularity is increasing with sales jumping +24% year on year. The average selling price of a refurbished smartphone is €366, saving consumers €52 compared with a new smartphone (European 5: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK). With rising inflation, consumers are more likely to opt for these devices as a cost-saving measure. Indeed, those Feeling the Pinch and Cautiously Coping have a greater rate of refurbished/used adoption.

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Source: ‘How inflation is shaping what and when consumers buy across technology and video streaming’ report 2023, Worldpanel Division, Kantar

While sustainability may not be the primary factor driving purchase decisions, consumers can associate their cost-saving purchases with a reduction in e-waste. Retailers and manufacturers are effectively communicating these benefits to help consumers feel more comfortable when buying refurbished or used devices. Back Market, the leading refurbished retailer in Europe, states, "help prevent e-waste and buy refurbished phones instead." Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is still beneficial.

This is more important than ever, given that the rare-Earth materials used in smartphone manufacturing are becoming more valuable than oil and gas. Moreover, the carbon emissions produced by an average flagship smartphone throughout its lifecycle would require planting one seedling and nurturing it for ten years to offset.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without

The longer consumers hold onto their devices, the greater the positive environmental impact. In the same one-month period ending in May 2023, 18% of consumers purchased their phones based on their expected longevity. This behaviour is reflected in the increasing number of consumers who have owned their devices for four or more years, with a notable increase of +22% year on year. While it would be misleading to equate longer smartphone lifecycles with sustainability-minded consumers, the cause-and-effect relationship is still present.

As more consumers choose cost-saving initiatives like refurbished/used devices, trade-ins, and prolonged use of their smartphones, the planet stands to benefit. However, it is important to acknowledge that the majority of consumers are not adjusting their purchase behaviour with the environment in mind. Moving forward, Kantar's Worldpanel ComTech continuous, longitudinal insights can play a pivotal role in guiding manufacturers, retailers and network providers towards sustainable practices and messaging. By leveraging our insights, brands can gain a deep understanding of evolving consumer sentiment, identify opportunities to promote cost-saving initiatives like refurbished devices and extended lifecycles, whilst successfully conveying the environmental benefits customers.

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