Thought Leadership

The Pandemic’s Enduring Impact on the Mobile Phone Purchase Journey

September 12, 2022
The Impact of the Pandemic on the Mobile Phone Purchase Journey

When COVID-19 protocols hit, it massively shifted consumer shopping behavior from in-person to online, simultaneously creating a greater demand for upgraded wireless services and 5G-compatible phones. As the world shifted to working from home, online grocery shopping and streaming of digital entertainment, consumers’ need for rapid connectivity only increased. People simply could not be without their phones. This prompted retailers to quickly upgrade their websites and apps to make online shopping easier and faster.

In this post, we explore how these changes may have forever changed the mobile phone purchase journey.

Retailers made online shopping for mobile phones easier in three pivotal ways:

  1. Upgraded and revamped websites and apps to make finding preferred brands faster and more convenient
  2. Increased payment options (e.g., PayPal, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Venmo, Zelle or Klarna)
  3. Added fast, free home delivery

Despite these efforts, there continued to be delivery delays, especially for out-of-stock (OOS) items, which thwarted the normal consumer path to purchase. In many cases, lack of availability forced consumers to rethink their brand loyalty. Could they wait three weeks for their favorite brand? It is safe to say that across many categories, especially mobile phones, the pandemic disrupted the consumer decision-making process, and in some cases, caused consumers to switch brands.

Inflection Points Such as OOS Items and Lengthy Delays Raised Awareness for Mobile Phone Competitors

According to Escalent’s path-to-purchase research, under normal circumstances at least half of consumers are Pre-selectors—these customers have already determined what they want to buy before they even need to buy it. This is especially true in categories involving a significant spend or brand trust—such as mobile phones. Additionally, there is a group called Validators who represent about 15% of shoppers, and, like Pre-selectors, they’ve pretty much made up their mind about what brand they will purchase before the need arises. The difference is they do some research to validate that they’re making the right choice before making a final decision. This leaves a dwindling third group of consumers who are True Shoppers (about 25%), who consider all the options before buying and can be influenced to consider a new brand.

Every category has a percentage of shoppers who are so brand loyal that they will simply not purchase anything else until their brand is in stock again (Pre-selectors). However, the pandemic and the resulting supply-chain issues forced many Pre-selectors to shop for an alternative brand. They were suddenly True Shoppers! This is exactly what happened (and in some cases continues to happen) to many consumers across a number of categories.

This means that, since pandemics and supply-chain disruptions tend to be outliers, it presented a unique situation to shift customer considerations toward new brands. In a normal state, Pre-selectors go with their brand of choice without even thinking about it. Which is why it’s become increasingly more important to capture new customers early in the consumer decision-making process.

Now consider this: according to PC Magazine (2021), OS preference is high, with almost 92% of iPhone users and 74% of Samsung users being brand loyal. These high percentages reinforce the theory that many consumers will wait for their brand to be available before buying a new phone. This is because there is a disproportionally high degree of loyalty among mobile phone consumers. So, one could argue that the Pre-selector challenge is even greater for the telecommunication and technology industries.

Winning More Customers Means Charting the New Path to Purchase

Inserting your product into the consideration set early in the process is a critical component to changing consumer behaviors to increase the consideration of your brand.

What happens to brands at the critical juncture between buying a premium mobile phone online, sight unseen, versus testing it in a retail store location? We know that the pandemic impacted shoppers’ ability to physically go to a store. As a result, shopper journey touchpoints such as online reviews and tech video blogs began to play a more significant role in the purchase decision process. In addition, shoppers who don’t preselect their phone often prefer to see the phone and test it in a retail store before buying it. While, retail locations continue to be an important part of the consumer journey for the segment that wants to feel the phone and test its functionality before buying, online smartphone sales from younger customers went up significantly during the pandemic. This is a shift that should not be ignored, as younger generations will continue change the purchase journey, and the impact of the pandemic on smartphone sales in-store vs. online is still being studied.

When You Compare the Purchase Journey of a Mobile Phone to That of Its Accessories, a Second Path to Purchase Emerges

Shoppers have even more options regarding where and what accessories to buy for their phone. While mobile phones and their accessories (cases, screen protectors, wallets, PopSockets, etc.) go hand in hand, companies should not assume these categories have the same consumer decision-making process. Accessories are not always bought at the same time and place as mobile phones. This gives shoppers time to contemplate which accessories they need or want, and what price they are willing to pay. Price, customization, brand and convenience all play a role in the accessory purchase journey. Additionally, given that accessories are often at a lower price point and present less risk and commitment, consumers may be more likely to be True Shoppers when buying in this category.

To really understand what’s changed in the mobile phone customer journey, path-to-purchase research can uncover all consumers’ decision points, such as what the next generation is buying beyond an increase in online shopping and the extent to which accessories play a role in whether consumers choose to buy your brand or stray to your competition.

Because there is not one uniform purchase journey from awareness to conversion, Escalent has developed a proprietary approach to path to purchase with four output elements:

  1. A market assessment to look at the buyers lost along the way and understand who they are, at what point along the customer journey you lost them, and why you lost them
  2. In-depth qualitative research focused on the trigger, or need recognition, to understand the purchase journeys more clearly
  3. Creation of “Network Path Maps” rooted in qualitative research deep dives
  4. Prescriptive advice and strategies to win more shoppers based on behavioral science

Uncovering your brand’s path to purchase should be a top priority for 2023. Preselection and brand loyalty continue to dominate the mobile phone category. Extending your marketing focus to the top of the funnel allows you to see inflection points in your shoppers’ path to purchase journey. Getting in front of shoppers early to build awareness—and, ultimately, consideration—is critical to capturing customer growth and keeping current customers loyal.

To find out more about understanding your consumers’ new path to purchase, download Want to Win More? Your Guide to Boosting Customer Growth Using Our Award-Winning Path-to-Purchase Approach.

Download Want to Win More? Your guide to boosting customer growth using our award-winning path-to-purchase approach

Raleigh Kelle
Kelley Raleigh
Vice President, Telecom

Kelley is a vice president in the Telecommunications industry group at Escalent. She has over 25 years of experience in category insights, shopper insights, and customer experience across multiple industries, with a focus on consumer products and telecommunications. Prior to joining Escalent, Kelley led client services and research for a boutique consultancy, working across multiple industries and channels of engagement. Kelley works with her clients to provide compelling answers for their most pressing questions with a ‘client first’ philosophy. She led insights for Samsung for almost 5 years, focused on T-Mobile. She led projects for both T-Mobile and Metro for T-Mobile, as well as Sprint. In addition, she partnered with the Samsung USA Mobile division to increase sales and engagement for the tablet and accessories categories. At PepsiCo and Dannon, she led shopper and category insights at the regional and national levels and partnered with the largest US retailers across all channels of distribution to increase basket ring and grow the retailer’s shopper base. Kelley has a BA in Chemistry and an MBA in Marketing.