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Digital Consumer Trends – Who is purchasing (what) now

Who is purchasing (what) now

In our 2020 Digital Consumer Trends survey we looked at changes to Australians’ device purchasing habits during the first recession in the Australian economy in 30 years. In spite of the economic conditions and lockdowns, 26% of survey respondents picked up a new tech device with the biggest one-off purchases being laptops, smartphones and televisions. Fast-forward to 2021, the economic outlook has improved but rolling lockdowns have remained across the country leaving us wondering who is purchasing what now.

Pandemic purchasing of tech devices in 2021 found a new gear with 38% of respondents purchasing at least one device, up from 26% in 2020. Laptops and smartphones remain the most purchased devices during the last 12 months of the pandemic at 12%, both up from 9% in 2020.

Which, if any, of the following devices have you purchased as a result of spending more time at home because of the coronavirus pandemic?

Base: All adults 18-75

Even though Australians have purchased these marquee tech devices as a result of the pandemic, overall ownership has remained relatively stable, fluctuating by less than 1% over the past 3 years – indicating that these purchases are upgrades or replacements, rather than new purchasers entering the market. Due to the pandemic, many of these upgrades are likely to have happened earlier than the lengthening upgrade cycles we have seen in our previous editions of this report. The spike in purchasing has a potential flow-on impact to the uptake of new technologies such as 8K televisions and 5G smartphones. Consumers who purchased a 4K TV or 4G enabled smartphone in the last 12 months will likely wait a number of years before their next refresh, potentially impacting the mass adoption of the latest and greatest technologies.

Which, if any, of the following devices do you own or have ready access to

Base: All adults 18-75

Wearable devices such as smart watches and fitness bands have continued to see a rise in ownership. Twenty three percent of respondents now have access to a smart watch, up from 17% in 2020 and 12% in 2019. This is likely to coincide with the spike in tech device purchasing as consumers look to fill out their companion devices to the smartphone and laptop. However, it is entirely possible that a more digitally conscious, and health focussed Australian community will continue to see the broad applicability of these devices and adoption will continue to accelerate.

In global comparisons of wearable adoption, Australia is on par with some nations like the UK (23%)1 and Italy (25%)2, and higher than in other nations such as Japan (7%)3. That said adoption rates appear to be mixed. For example, smart watch adoption has grown faster in the UK, with 13% of respondents having access in 20201 compared to 17% in Australia. With lock-downs subsiding, post-pandemic it will be interesting to observe whether wearable adoption continues at the same rate given the return to mobility.

Beyond the marquee device categories (Smartphone, TV, Laptop) and wearables, purchasing has broadened out into the long tail of consumer devices in particular connected devices in the home. 86% of survey respondents reported to now have access to at least one connected device in their home, an increase from the 81% reported in 2020.

Which, if any, of the following connected devices do you own or have ready access to?

Base: All adults 18-75

Expanding entertainment options has been a theme for consumers, with 40% of Australians reporting they have spent more time watching TV and films since the start of the pandemic. Smart TVs have led the charge, with adoption increasing to 64%, up from 58% in 2020. Access to other connected devices also saw more modest improvements, with both voice-assisted (18% to 19%) and non-voice-assisted speakers (27% to 30%), and streaming devices (33% to 34%) all increasing. Gaming has also seen a boost with access to gaming consoles increasing to 39% from the 35% recorded in 2020, aided by the launch of next gen consoles from the major players. It is likely that access to gaming consoles will continue to increase into next year once supply is stabilised4. Stock availability issues have not been limited to gaming devices, with 27% of respondents having to wait more than a week to purchase an electronic device. This is expected to continue into 2022, with shipping delays and chip availability both contributing.

Beyond entertainment and recreation, Australian’s have turned to smart home tech for a further wave of improvements to their lockdown lives. Devices such as smart appliances (6% to 11%), smart lighting (4% to 10%), and smart hubs (6% to 9%) have all almost doubled in ownership since 2018. The increase in smart appliances is even more interesting when the adoption is considered in terms of age demographics, with 26% of respondents aged 18 to 24, and 16% of those aged 25 to 34 reporting to have ready access to one of these devices - a marked improvement from 2020, where these demographics reported 14% and 10% respectively.

One of the lasting implications from this pandemic induced connected device purchasing is the potential for hardware providers to bundle services to support them moving forward (e.g. home security, energy monitoring). Customers have demonstrated they are increasingly comfortable with ongoing subscription business models (1 in 4 respondents subscribed to a paid SVOD service and 1 in 10 resubscribed in the last 12 months), which presents an opportunity for traditional hardware vendors to tap into ongoing revenue.

The pandemic has had some notable impacts on the device preferences of Australians. Despite sporadic lockdowns keeping many Australians at home with access to larger stationary screens, we have continued to see usage preferences trend further towards smartphones and more portable devices. Even for the activities where laptops remained the preferred device - which are browsing shopping websites and making online purchases - mobile phones took great strides in narrowing this gap; the distance shrinking from 6 percentage points to 2 and from 15 percentage points to 4 respectively.

Which, if any, is your preferred device for each of the following activities?

All adults 18-75 who have a phone or smartphone

Finally, we have seen the 65-75 demographic start to ‘ditch the desktop’ as the preferred device in favour of prioritising portability. Whilst laptops have now replaced desktops as the preferred device for all activities aside from checking bank balances, there has only been a relatively small growth in their popularity. Instead, this transition has been driven by a sharp decline in the popularity of the desktops, offset by a dramatic increase in the popularity of mobile phones within this demographic – for instance, the number of respondents aged 65-75 who preferred using their mobile phone for online searches increased to 23% in 2021, from 9% in 2020.

Below is a list of activities that you may do on your smartphone. Which, if any, of these do you do at least once a day?

Base: All adults 18-75 who have a smartphone and do any activity on their devices at least once a day 

Despite the increase in popularity of mobile phones across most activities, 2021 did see a decrease in the frequency respondents used mobile phones for several mainstay activities. Fifty five percent and 47% of respondents reported using their smartphones at least once per day for using social media and IM (Instant Messaging) apps respectively – down from the 61% and 55% reported in 2020. This drop marks a return to pre-pandemic usage levels, rather than a decrease in popularity overall, with 58% and 47% of respondents reporting undertaking these activities daily in 2019. When considering duration of use as well as frequency, 25% of respondents reported to have used social networks more because of the pandemic.

Interestingly, this trend of favouring convenience and portability has gone in the opposite direction for gaming, with preferences trending towards consoles. The popularity of consoles has increased roughly equally for men and women over the past year, with preference growing by 6 percentage points (from 21% to 27%) for men, and by 7 percentage points (from 12% to 20%) for women. Similar levels of device preference growth can be seen across age brackets with most groupings growing by 7-8 percentage points. This growth is likely due in part to the increased accessibility of next generation consoles, however it may also indicate that, for gaming at least, the pandemic has pushed us towards quality over convenience. Despite this increase in preference for consoles, more Australians are using mobiles to game than ever before, with 28% using mobile phones for gaming at least once per day, up from 21% in 2020. This may indicate that people are turning more and more to gaming across all devices as a means of escapism, something that will likely continue as technologies such as virtual reality become increasingly mainstream.

Another year of on-again, off-again lockdowns have seen consumers continue to invest in devices that improve their at home experience. Entertainment devices, wearables and games consoles have all seen strong growth, with consumers bringing forward upgrade timeframes to best capitalise on their time at home. Despite many Australian’s being at home more often in last 12 months, we have continued to see device usage preferences shift towards mobile and small screen devices, a trend that will likely continue as we venture out into a post-lockdown world.

The next 12 months present an interesting opportunity for businesses to capitalise on the increased device purchasing rates of the previous two years. The ancillary market for support and subscription services (e.g., apps, cloud, software upgrades, support, installation) is likely a target for many organisations who see the latest wave of wearables and connected devices as the latest multiplier opportunity.   

Unless otherwise referenced, the statistics in our 2021 Digital Consumer Trends articles are based on a survey commissioned by Deloitte Australia. It involved a representative sample of 2,000 Australians aged between 18-75 and was conducted in late July 2021, at a time when Australia's second wave of Delta cases was on the rise and restrictions were being introduced and changed every few days across NSW, VIC, QLD & SA. Numbers have been rounded for ease of comparison.

Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), its global network of member firms, and their related entities (collectively, the “Deloitte organisation”). DTTL (also referred to as “Deloitte Global”) and each of its member firms and related entities are legally separate and independent entities, which cannot obligate or bind each other in respect of third parties. DTTL and each DTTL member firm and related entity is liable only for its own acts and omissions, and not those of each other. DTTL does not provide services to clients. Please see to learn more.

[i] UK DCT report 2020 and 2021

[ii] Italy DCT report 2021

[iii] Japan DCT report 2021