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Given the critical role cell phones played in the tragic events of September 11, it's not surprising that anecdotal evidence from retailers points to a boom in the U.S. mobile phone market. The industry is likely to experience even greater growth through the first quarter of 2002, as consumers, fearful for their safety, begin to think of cell phones not as luxury items but as necessities, predicts Mintel, a research publisher based in London. To sustain continued growth, however, the report advises wireless service providers need to gain a better understanding of the purchase motivations and demographics of non-subscribers, and educate all consumers about new services.

In the report, “The U.S. Mobile Phones Market,� Mintel analysts look at trends and drivers for future industry growth. The report is based on interviews with industry players, and includes statistics culled from various government and business sources, as well as Mintel's own exclusive, nationally representative telephone survey of 1,008 adult Americans conducted in June by International Communications Research (ICR). While the report was initially released in August 2001, additional analysis was conducted to reflect the impact of September 11 on the industry.

Although cell phone penetration in the U.S. seems ubiquitous, just over half of adults today (53 percent) own or use a wireless phone. Not surprisingly, the bulk of cell phone users are wealthy (80 percent have incomes of $75,000 or more) and young (63 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds own a cell phone). With such high penetration among these early adopters, future growth lies in tapping new demographics, say Mintel analysts. For instance, a full 70 percent of Americans with incomes under $25,000 do not own a wireless phone. And now that the cell phone's image has shifted from a toy for the wealthy to a practical tool for everyone, lower-income consumers may be enticed to buy — for the right price.

In fact, while cell phone providers may be tempted to increase monthly subscription fees, Mintel analysts advise against it. Fifty-two percent of current cell phone users say higher service costs would induce them to change providers. And 45- to 54-year-olds are more likely than any other age group to rank cost as the most important factor they consider when choosing a service (45 percent).

Providers may also want to pay closer attention to the teen market. With 56 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds already gabbing on cell phones, future growth is all about hooking the next generation at an even younger age. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of 15- to 19-year-olds in the U.S. is projected to increase by 5.5 percent. Most of today's teens don't own cell phones because many companies still require customers to have a credit rating, and most teens don't carry credit cards. “U.S. companies may benefit from practices in Western Europe and Asia, where prepaid phones and services are widely available and have experienced unabated growth by reaching more users through alternative payment options,� according to the report.

When it comes to creating new ad campaigns and offers, Mintel advises cell phone providers to monitor subtle shifts in attitude and behavior taking place in the U.S. Previous ad campaigns highlighted the needs of time-starved professionals, but Mintel finds that just 17 percent of Americans today use their cell phones primarily for business purposes. In fact, 43 percent say they use their cell phones mainly for personal use, and 30 percent use them for emergencies only. While 18- to 24-year-olds are the most likely to use their phones primarily for personal calls (64 percent), more than half (51 percent) of those 55 or older say they use their phones only for emergencies.

Women and lower-income consumers are also more likely to use their phones only for emergencies. Marketers thus have an opportunity to fuel sales by educating consumers about the convenience of using cell phones for other purposes. The onus is also on marketers to educate consumers about features like text messaging and the wireless Web, according to the Mintel report. Perhaps it's time to reach out and touch someone.

For more information, contact Alissa Ostrowski at (312) 932-0400 ext. 255 or visit www.mintel.com.

Phone Home

American cell phone users age 25 to 34 are more than four times as likely to use their mobile phone as their primary telephone than those over age 35.

PRIMARY PURPOSE OF WIRELESS PHONE, BY SELECT DEMOGRAPHICS:

USE MAINLY FOR

PERSONAL CALLS
USE MAINLY FOR

BUSINESS CALLS
USE FOR

EMERGENCIES ONLY
USE AS

PRIMARY PHONE
All 43% 17% 30% 7%
GENDER
Male 38% 25% 24% 9%
Female 48% 10% 36% 5%
AGE
18-24 64% 7% 18% 10%
25-34 43% 17% 22% 14%
35-44 43% 25% 25% 3%
45-54 48% 18% 29% 3%
55+ 28% 15% 51% 4%
HOUSEHOLD INCOME
less than $25K 39% 9% 36% 12%
$25K-$49.9K 45% 12% 34% 4%
$50K-$74.9K 49% 20% 24% 5%
$75K+ 41% 26% 23% 8%
Source: Mintel/ICR
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