'Latest and greatest' smartphones drive 35% of cell phone purchases

New research shows that smartphones continue to drive consumers' wireless purchases, with 35 percent of respondents in a new survey saying that they purchased their phone to obtain the "latest and greatest device," up from 25 percent last year.

The findings come from a survey on the shopping habits of those purchasing wireless devices and services, directed by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Compete. The survey, conducted in November, relied on Compete's panel of 2 million Americans and analyzed the behavior of cell phone purchasers backward from the point of sale.

The survey found that the leading driver for cell phone sales was wireless customers' upgrade eligibility, meaning that their two-year contracts were expiring and they were able to obtain a new phone at a subsidized price. According to the survey, 42 percent of cell phone buyers purchased their device because there were eligible for an upgrade. However, that figure was down 9 percent from the previous year, which indicates that cell phone sales are not as tightly tied to service contracts as they used to be.

Other factors that drove the purchase of a cell phone included obtaining the best deal (19 percent of respondents said this was the reason for their purchase), the network (17 percent) and purchasing a replacement (12 percent).

Survey responses to Google and Compete's question, "Why did you purchase this cell phone."

In a finding that could be concerning to wireless carriers, 32 percent of respondents selected a phone first and then selected a carrier--and 48 percent of shoppers who switched carriers selected a phone first and then selected a carrier. Moreover, one in three shoppers switched carriers (up 39 percent year-over-year) and nearly half (around 47 percent) considered two or more carriers when shopping for a phone (up 193 percent year-over-year).

The survey also found that interest in 4G and no-contract plans continues to grow. According to the findings, 31 percent more people consider 4G availability important, compared with the survey last year, and 41 percent more people consider no-contract plans important. The most important factor was network reliability, with 85 percent of respondents citing it as very important when shopping for a cell phone.

Survey responses to Google and Compete's question on "How important were each of the following features to you when shopping for a cell phone?"

The findings from Google and Compete indicate Americans continue to focus on smartphones as the center of their shopping experience. According to comScore, the most popular smartphone manufacturer in the United States in February was Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), followed by Samsung, HTC, Motorola and LG.

For more:
- see this Google post

Related Articles:
T-Mobile launches iPhone assault with installment plan, trade-ins and ad blitz
The ripple effect: How the iPhone impacted the way carriers do business
The four key factors driving the U.S. prepaid market for wireless