A recent study finds that even if consumers list device repairability as an important factor to them, brand popularity far exceeds any other factor in prolonging a smartphone’s life. Conducted by researchers from the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Israel’s Tel Aviv University, the report examines nearly 500,000 eBay sales of both Apple and Samsung phones in 2015 and 2016 to understand how different factors affected phone values in the secondhand market.
Apple and Samsung devices were chosen as the focus of the study as these two brands account for 70 percent of new smartphone sales in the U.S. Other factors that played a role in their selection was the fact that both brands sell a range of products that are considered easier and harder to repair, and both differ in their brand equity.
The researchers looked at characteristics such as brand, age, repairability, memory size, condition and others. “Our results suggest that although repairability and large memory size are typically thought to be ‘life extending,’ in practice they have limited impact on the current economic life span of smartphones and their market-based reuse,” according to the report, which was published last back in August in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. “In contrast, we show that brand, an intangible product property, can extend smartphones’ economic life span by 12.5 months.”
Researchers found that brand equity had more of an impact on extending product life than repairability. In general, Apple phones retained their value better.
It should also be pointed out that the research team noted the important limitations on their research. For the purpose of the study, they did not take into account devices that stayed with consumers until the the device was no longer useful (in other words, devices that were never refurbished and/or resold). They state that this would be the case for consumers who had devices that could easily be repaired or upgraded or for consumers who were not widely aware of a specific device’s repairability, and thus were unable to consider that attribute when making purchases on the secondhand market.
“This work provides evidence that, despite wide advocacy for repairability, currently functional durability has, at best, a marginal impact on the economic life span and use-phase duration of smartphones,” according to the report. “In contrast, intangible product properties can affect economic life spans and therefore can affect economic life spans.”
“Because repairability scores are not commonly advertised, it remains unclear whether given sufficient information regarding product repairability and functional durability in general, economic life span of more functionally durable models would increase,” the researchers wrote.