The NPD Group: Nearly One-Third of All Smartphones Sold in the U.S. are Prepaid

According to NPD’s Mobile Phone Track, year-over-year prepaid smartphone unit sales doubled in the first quarter of 2013.

PORT WASHINGTON, NEW YORK, May 15, 2013 – According to The NPD Group, a global information company, in the first quarter (Q1) of 2013, year-over-year total smartphone sales increased 42 percent, with one-third (36 percent) of the actual unit volume increase represented by prepaid smartphone sales.

Year-over-year prepaid smartphone unit sales doubled in Q1 and accounted for 32 percent of total smartphone unit sales, which is an 11 point increase year-over-year and a 10 point sequential increase from the record-high share of 22 percent reached in Q4 2012. Postpaid smartphone unit sales grew just 23 percent, between Q1 2012 and Q1 2013.

 “In a quarter without a major product launch from either of the two market leaders, consumers refocused their attention away from the postpaid wars and toward finding the best value for their dollar,” said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD. “Sales of prepaid smartphones doubled from the previous year, continuing a string of more than 12 quarters of triple-digit sales increases.”

Unit share for Prepaid Smartphone Sales

Manufacturer Q1 2013
Samsung 32
LG 22
Huawei 11
Apple 8

Source: The NPD Group, Inc., Mobile Phone Track, 2013.

Based on the latest information from NPD’s Mobile Phone Track, while Samsung’s share of prepaid smartphones remained stable between Q4 2012 and Q1 2013, the company has noted some market erosion compared to the prior year. Both LG and Apple made significant inroads into the segment since Q1 2012, with LG’s unit share doubling and Apple’s unit share increasing fourfold.

“For consumers looking at prepaid phones today, value does not equate with finding phones that are cheap or obsolete,” Baker said. “In fact, the Galaxy S2 and the iPhone 4S, two of the top five prepaid smartphone models in 2013, were among the top-selling phones overall just one year earlier.”

Sales of the top five prepaid smartphone brands comprised more than 80 percent of all prepaid smartphone sales, which is an increase of 5 percentage points over Q1 2012. National retailers were the dominant retail channel for prepaid smartphone purchases, and their sales-volume share has risen almost 40 percent in the past year.

Channel Share for Prepaid Sales

Retail Channel Q1 2012 Q4 2012 Q1 2013
National Retail 34 44 47
Wireless Carrier 51 41 37
All Other 11 13 14
Wireless Specialty 4 2 3

Source: The NPD Group, Inc., Mobile Phone Track, 2013.

“Prepaid has proven to be a real winner for national retailers,” said Baker. “The easy purchase cycle and grab-and-go nature of the product play into the strength of large-format stores.  Certainly, companies like AT&T recognize this shift in purchasing as they ramp up their focus on prepaid phones with their recently announced ‘Aio’ product branding initiative.” 


Information this press release is from “Mobile Phone Track,” which reports on the activities of U.S. consumers, age 18 and older, who purchased a mobile phone or smartphone. NPD does not track corporate/enterprise mobile phone purchases.

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