Called It! In 2023, Refurbished Phones Were 1/4 of UK Mobile Phone Sales.

New data from GfK shows that UK refurbished phone sales in 2023 were up 32% from the year before

Back in November, I wrote that the popularity of refurbished phones was continuing to grow year on year. In the UK, The Black Friday weekend of 2022 had seen a higher number of Google searches for the term ‘refurbished’ than ever before, and it looked certain that November 2023 was going to smash that record.

Needless to say, I was right about that. Here’s a chart showing the Google search traffic for the phrase ‘Refurbished Phones:

Search traffic shows steady growth since 2009, with recent peaks every november

What we didn’t know, however, was that refurbished phones had grown in popularity to such an extent that an entire QUARTER of phone sales in 2023 were for refurbs! According to a new survey collected by, 25% of respondents who had bought a new phone in 2023 had said that they had bought a refurbished phone – up from 19% in 2021.

Why are so many people buying refurbished?

According to GfK spokesperson Lizzie Bailey, the biggest reason that people are buying refurbished phones is cost. Here’s what she had to say:

“With a cost of living crisis, new mobile phone buying patterns are emerging. In 2022 we reported that smartphone contracts were seeing a comeback as subscribers committed to longer terms to manage rising prices and lock in the best tariffs. Now we’re tracking rising demand for used handsets, whether refurbished as a way of upgrading to a superior model for less or picking second-hand devices to keep costs down.”

The data supports this as well – with only 9% of respondents mentioning environmental issues as the reason for choosing to buy a refurbished phone. Of those respondents who mentioned the environment, most were in the Under-35 age group.

Who is buying refurbished phones?

According to GfK, buyers of refurbished phones “tend to be affluent, and younger and shop online at specialist retailers who offer warranties”. From my experience working at one of those “specialist retailers” (The Big Phone Store, of course!), that information comes at no surprise at all.

Our customers tend to be on TikTok, not Facebook, and buying a new phone is always going to be more common among those who can afford to. I think people are realising that buying refurbished doesn’t have to mean people on a low income buying an old, cheap phone. Instead, it can mean being able to afford the very latest (and most expensive) technology, without paying full price!

In Bailey’s words, “Consumers will pay more for advanced features. But if the innovation leap is not far enough, they will wait for something truly new before buying their next device.

Now we’re tracking rising demand for […] refurbished as a way of upgrading to a superior model for less,” Bailey says.

What will the refurbished phone market look like in the future?

I sat down with The Big Phone Store’s resident refurbished phone expert, Steven Athwal, to get his thoughts on the news. Here’s what he had to say:

“When I think of where the refurbished smartphone industry is headed, I can’t help but be reminded of how we buy cars. Most people can’t afford to buy a brand-new car straight from the manufacturer, so it’s become second-nature for most people to buy a car that once had a previous owner, and honestly I think that eventually, the smartphone industry will look the same. Especially as new phones keep getting more and more expensive – have you seen how much these new foldable phones cost?!”

According to Steven, the biggest reason people give for NOT buying a refurbished smartphone is the fear of the unknown. “At the moment, refurbs have this stigma around them where people think – urgh, I don’t want a second-hand phone. I think that’s mostly because buying refurbished hasn’t become normal for most people yet.”

“However, as more and more people have been buying refurbished phones in recent years, that uncertainty and fear is going away. And the more that people realise that refurbished phone sellers can be trustworthy and dependable, the faster that change will happen.”