Online mobile phone retail on the increase

Consumers are increasingly drawn to online purchasing for new mobile phones in Europe’s largest markets, with Amazon and eBay taking the lion’s share of business, according to new findings from the TNS ComTech research project. The ComTech programme conducts repeat interviews with some 60,000 mobile users in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, covering all aspects of the mobile phone life cycle, from purchase, through usage to upgrade.

These latest results indicate that, in the twelve weeks to April 19th this year, almost one quarter of new mobile phone purchases in Western Europe’s six largest markets were made online. Internet sales in Italy and Spain are low, however, meaning that the proportion of online purchases in France, Germany and the UK are far higher than 25 per cent.

Connected prepay phones are particularly popular online, according to TNS spokesman Paul Moore, counting for 44.1 per cent of web purchases in Germany, for example. On eBay and Yahoo 54 per cent of all mobile phone sales are for prepaid units.

Moore said that one in 16 handsets sold in Western Europe are now sold on eBay or Amazon. Increasingly, he said, smaller online retailers are offering handsets for lower prices, taking the hassle of sales for this market away from the carriers themselves. The popularity of prepaid handsets in the online purchase environment partly explains the fact that the demographic making most use of web retail is the 35 – 49 age group. Often these people are buying phones for children or as gifts.

But, Moore said, direct online sales from carriers are not being damaged as a result of new channels springing up. Across Europe, direct carrier sales are increasing as a proportion of total internet sales. France is the biggest market for this type of retail, and Orange is “by far the biggest network for direct online sales,” according to Moore.

Whatever the model, it might be tempting for operators to assume that the growth in online sales reduces the need for a high street presence. But Paul Moore said that this was not the case. A spin-off survey of UK consumers found that, “a really high proportion of people who browse in store end up buying on line, so the two channels are not unrelated,” he said. “A physical presence is still very important as it could be driving the internet purchase.”

Moore conceded, though, that the value of physical stores would be coming under scrutiny, arguing that carriers should factor in to the success rate of the stores a certain percentage of internet sales. “Very often these stores are monitored on the number of sales that they make. And the business model that many of the carriers have looks at the physical environment in isolation. But it should take into account the online sales as well as part of that mix. The physical store has more importance than people had previously thought.”


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