The market for used and refurbished smartphones experienced immense growth in the first quarter of 2023 as consumers cut down on expenses and look to be more environmentally friendly, new figures have claimed.

The latest report from market analysts CSS Insight claims this industry generated $13.3 billion in revenue in just the first three months of 2023, an impressive 14% year-on-year growth – particularly as sales of brand-new smartphones dropped by 2% over the same period.

The report noted that consumers are mostly interested in premium phones, as flagship devices, especially those in mint condition, are most in-demand – with the Apple iPhone 12 the most popular choice. 

Significant scale

“The secondary smartphone market has already built significant scale and is consistently outpacing the equivalent new-device market as better products become available from leading international brands”, said Kane McKenna, Analyst at CCS Insight.

The biggest problem in this market is that there aren’t enough used devices to go around: “Unlike traditional supply chains, this market relies on consumer trade-ins, which are proving to be the biggest challenge for the industry to reach global scale,” McKenna added. “Mobile operators in the US are clawing back phones from consumers much more effectively than others, but this hasn’t been enough to stop trade-in levels flattening in recent quarters.”

Westerners seem to be on the hunt for devices from the far East: “European trade-in volumes are woefully below where they should be and traders are increasingly targeting Japan, India, South Korea and China to source products, as they collectively have a similar surplus of used iPhones as the US market”, Simon Bryant, Vice President of Research at CCS Insight, added.

Almost three-quarters of all products entering the supply chain were sourced by either mobile operators, Apple, or Samsung. But these companies only make up a quarter of the units sold to consumers and enterprises, the researchers further noted. Instead, resellers and marketplaces such as eBay, or Amazon, are making up most of the volume.

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