2020 Smartphone Demand Down Ahead of Christmas

By Aman Bansal, Flurry Analyst and Lisa Moshfegh, Flurry Product Marketing

The holiday season in the U.S. between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a critical sales period for smartphone manufacturers. From 2016 to 2018, the last three years Apple disclosed unit sales, the company sold well over one-third of its iPhones during the last quarter of each year. And while the stakes are just as high this year, the pandemic has strongly impacted the economy. COVID-19 has left many unemployed, reduced retail foot traffic, and forced Americans to simply stay home, leaving retailers scrambling to prepare for a largely digital December. As we head into the make-or-break  stretch leading up to Christmas, this report studies early trends from the first weeks of this atypical holiday season.

Flurry Analytics is used in over 1 million mobile applications, providing insights into 2 billion smartphones worldwide per month. Let’s begin by reviewing new device activations in November of this year compared to last year.

New Device Activations - Holiday 2019 vs. Holiday 2020

In the chart above, we plot new device activations—new smartphones entering the market—by week in the United States for 2019 in light blue, and 2020 in dark  blue. Except for the second week of November, smartphone activations so far this year have been below those of 2019. In fact, during the week of Thanksgiving, which typically kicks off the holiday shopping season in the United States, smartphone activations were down 11% year-over-year. If November’s smartphone activations are an indicator for the rest of the holiday season, then we are facing a slower-than-normal holiday season. 

In addition to lower year-over-year activations this November, device activations peaked two weeks before Black Friday due to an extended period of holiday retailer deals that started earlier in the month of November. Early deals drove front loading of smartphone purchases, perhaps with some OEMs offering discounts to compete against Apple’s newly premiered iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini which became available two weeks before Black Friday. To get a sense for how this year will unfold, we look back to 2019 when new device activations increased by 42% during the week of Christmas 2019 over the prior week. Below-average activations during November 2020 signals lower smartphone demand this year, likely caused by the pandemic. While activations Christmas week will indeed be the highest of the year, they are unlikely to match 2019 numbers.

Let’s look back at 2019 device activations per OEM during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Christmas 2019 Smartphone Activations

In the chart above, we show new device activations during the last two weeks of December in the U.S. among the six leading smartphone manufacturers. The column on the right side of each couplet represents activations during Christmas week, with the prior week shown on the left. Apple, in orange, and Samsung, in green, are the two most popular brands in the U.S. They both experienced week over week growth during that final week of the year: Apple grew 49% compared to the prior week while Samsung grew 23%. Given the recent success of the iPhone 12, we expect Apple to outsell Samsung again this holiday season. 

With many consumers still finalizing their holiday shopping, we compiled the top two smartphones across each pricing tier based on new device activations during the week of Black Friday 2020. Let’s see how they stack up.

Most Popular Devices November 2020

In the chart above, we list the top smartphone brand within each budget tier, as well as the best selling smartphone models. The height of the silver bar indicates how close or far behind the second place finisher is compared to the first in each category. For example, Samsung has the top two selling smartphones under $200 with the Galaxy A11 and Galaxy A10e. Based on the height of the silver bar, the Galaxy A10e is not that far behind the Galaxy A11. For all other price points, Apple takes the top spot with various iPhone models that span the price spectrum. Samsung’s Galaxy line takes a distant second place in the three highest priced tiers, further demonstrating Apple’s popularity among U.S. consumers as well as Apple's control of the premium end of the market. LG’s Stylo 6 is the only brand other than Apple or Samsung to even make the list, coming in second place in the budget category of $200 - $400, behind the iPhone SE. 

Last week, we reported that due to the pandemic, in-store shopping during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was down 41% year-over-year.  We suspect this trend will continue throughout the 2020 holiday season as daily cases of the coronavirus continue to rise. Most people are placing orders online, and holiday deals impact when those orders are placed. Given the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic with no prior precedence, retailers are likely scrambling to find favor with consumers, and many consumers are more cautious about what they buy. At Flurry, we will continue monitoring device purchase trends and keep bringing you valuable insights. Please subscribe to the Flurry blog and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay updated on trends in the mobile industry. 

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