Over the past few days, my Google Alerts has been serving up some intriguing articles on the topic of smartphones. Not only about the bells and whistles these products feature, but about the consumer trends taking place in this highly competitive marketplace. As a writer with a natural interest in tech, I keep my eyes peeled for industry trends and consumer patterns to help make sense of this highly technical and fast-paced environment. Recently, I’ve been focusing on the factors that influence us to buy smartphones amid the dizzying rate of inflation in this industry.
But before we explore these factors, let’s take inventory of what’s been going on as of late. Allow me to summarize:
- Prices of devices continue to rise. The recent spread of flagship smartphones is pushing costs above the $1400 price point. And even to get your hands on a mid-range smartphone or last year’s flagship, you’re still looking at a range of 5 – $700.
- Both smartphone sales and number of users are increasing worldwide. More than 1.4 billion smartphones are projected to sell in 2016, and by 2018, global shipments will reach 1.8 billion. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, sales grew by over 175 million.
Consumers are upgrading their devices more frequently than ever. Network carrier plans have shrunk from 3 years to 2, which means a bigger up-front payment for your device when you sign. But it also means more temptation to buy the latest and greatest as your contract expires. This is leading to a higher overall turnover of devices.
Given this perspective, you have to wonder: What’s turning the dials on this economic machine? As far as I can tell, there are three major pull factors for consumers in this market.
#1: Smartphone Marketing
There’s no secret that tech companies allocate a hefty amount of resources towards great marketing. Companies like Apple have even been recognized for their innovation on this front. These companies influence and inspire their viewers, encourage trends and affect the trajectory of the marketplace to a great degree. As a result, smartphones have successfully infiltrated the general public as a personal necessity–a sort of digital pocket assistant you can’t do without. And they’ve done it looking slick and smooth and with tremendous with sex appeal.
Of course, none of us want to admit that our decision making is affected all that much by the commercials we see for the latest devices. But I think it is, and to a large degree. Even as I critically analyzed the latest promo videos for the iPhone 6s and Galaxy S7, I could feel myself getting drawn in.
These brands play on our primitive desires. We humans love our tools and we love connecting with others. And smartphones deliver on both fronts. Watch the trailers and you’ll see what I mean. Devices flip, swoop, hover and twirl in some kind of hypnotic dance as we’re shown quick scenes of attractive young people using their smartphones and laughing in slow motion. The narrative is this: look how capable this powerful new device is, and imagine all the ways you’re going to use it.
I’m afraid exposure to this media may have us more invested than we might think.
#2: Social Proof
“Social proof” is one of the 6 Principles of Persuasion studied within the field of Social Psychology. It holds that we’re much more likely to invest in something if those around us–especially those we identify with–are doing so. Our ancestors relied on personal anecdotes and group thinking in order to safely navigate the difficult terrain of life. And although we live in the age of information, where objective data is at our fingertips at any moment of the day, it seems we are still at the will of this ancient neural circuitry.
The ubiquity of smartphones is a positive feedback loop. More and more people are buying these devices, which influences more and more people to buy these devices. We all know someone who is in way over their head with their smartphone. They need it only for text and e-mail yet they’re sporting the latest from Apple, Samsung, LG or HTC. Why? Well, in part because it’s no longer socially acceptable to own a flip-phone.
As much as we’d like to deny it, we really do care about what other people think. We are greatly influenced by the choices of those around us. And in this culture, we choose flashy features over price and practicality. Which brings us to our last point.
#3 Innovation Addiction
As consumers, we support technology for technology’s sake. It’s no longer just about buying devices that make our lives easier, it’s about sporting the latest innovation regardless of the cost. Even if the latest features serve little practical purpose (like a marginally larger and brighter screen) we still buy into it, bent on experiencing better.
This relationship to technology is not likely to change either. That’s because we care more about relative performance than absolute value. Our senses are rigged up to detect differences in experience and our cognition follows suit. If you’ve ever been forced to revert back to your old smartphone, you’ll know exactly what I mean. We’re keenly aware of just how much slower that hunk of junk iPhone 4 is compared to our 6s. And have you seen the camera quality on that thing? It’s not even 4k.
Extrapolate this mindset and things begin to make more sense. Factor in the marketing around these products and the social pressures at work and you’re left with a broader perspective on what’s driving the modern smartphone marketplace. As users, we may not have as much agency as we’d like to think
when it comes to our buying decisions, but a wider awareness is the first step in forging a more rational relationship with technology. One thing’s for sure, with the pace of the market, we won’t have to wait long to see what comes next.
Written Exclusively for Tech Today Review
By: Dylan Smart