Smartphones in Emerging Markets


Smart business today means global business. That’s why we’re devoting the next week to covering the mobile industry in emerging markets. India, China, Russia, Brazil–they’re the e-commerce giants of tomorrow. We’re giving you the lowdown on these important industry players so you can stay ahead of the trend.

Americans love their technology. Every time a new smartphone hits the market there are long lines of people waiting to get their hands on it. Many of these people take advantage of trade-in programs which allow them to get a discount on the newest models. But what happens to those smartphones that get traded in? The answer may surprise you.

A Global Exchange

Smartphones in the developing world often come from trade-ins like I’ve just described. Unlike in the United States and other developed countries, access to the Internet is very limited in the emerging and developing world. That said, once individuals in these areas gain access to the Internet, it quickly becomes an integral part of their daily lives. There has been a huge increase in the number of people who use smartphones to access the Internet in places such as Lebanon, Chile, Jordan and China .

The majority of people in developing countries, perhaps not surprisingly, are using their cell phones for texting. In a survey done by Pew Global, 78% of mobile phone users in 24 developing countries use their smartphones for sending texts, making it the most popular cell phone activity next to making calls. A smaller portion use their cell phone for picture taking, social media, and other online activities.

The Virtual Wallet

Another way that smartphones are primarily used, especially in Africa, is in the process of making or receiving payments. Both Kenya and Uganda have embraced mobile payment technology, and Pew Global estimates that up to 70% of Kenyans use a mobile device to make or receive monetary payments. This is in stark contrast to the remaining 24 countries in the survey that average 8% of users making payments or receiving funds this way.

The term “developing country” leads many to think of those with little means in terms of financial resources. This is true, and it leads one to wonder how citizens of these countries can afford such high-priced luxury items. According to Pew Global, “Smartphone ownership is more common in countries with higher levels of per capita income. Traditional cell phones still outnumber smartphones, although roughly three-in-ten or more Lebanese, Chileans, Jordanians, Chinese, Argentines, South Africans, Malaysians and Venezuelans now own a smartphone.”

Recommerce Brings It Full Circle

A portion of the smartphones and other mobile devices that we trade in each year make their way into the marketplaces of these countries. The way it works is quite simple. You take your smartphone or other device to a retailer for trade-in credit and receive a new phone at a discount. Your old phone is then taken to a sorting facility where it is tested to be sure that it is working properly. These phones are then shipped to locations within developing countries for sale to the public. The prices are deeply discounted from the original price, allowing more people to have the opportunity to own them.

Many manufacturers, large and small retailers and re-commerce specialists are participating in this new marketplace. It has global implications in terms of reducing the amount of pollution caused by dumping used electronics in the trash. It also has an effect on the global economy, allowing more individuals to profit from unused, outdated and unwanted cell phones of all types.

Sourcely Sparks Global Change

Sourcely is an industry leader in re-commerce solutions for both large and small enterprises. Contact us to find out how you can participate in this global opportunity. Together, we can help to assure that technology is available to more citizens in developing countries while at the same time doing our part to protect the environment.

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Justin Finkelstein

Co-Founder & CTO at Sourcely; server swiss army knife; flavor architect; the wildcard.