January 19, 2011 | by Michael Heller
Recently, there have been a couple different studies about cell phone user loyalty and the news has been hitting different sites, though mostly they have been used to show that people are more loyal to the iPhone than any other device on the market. Unfortunately, a quick look at the actual data is good enough to throw serious suspicion on those claims due to small sample sizes and questionable methodology.
The first study, done in November by the German firm, Gfk, found that overall only 25% of cell phone customers would remain loyal to their current device. iPhone customers came in at the top in “loyalty rate”, with Android in the middle of the pack, but both systems had a rate of 85% of users saying they would purchase that same OS again. One trouble with this study is that it was a global study covering Brazil, Germany, Spain, UK, USA, and China, yet the study only questioned 6,643 people in total. With 61.5 million smartphone users in the US alone, that is a ridiculously small sample size from which to draw conclusions.
The newer study by Zokem did better to survey 1,500 US smartphone users per quarter, but it is still a bit small. The crux of most arguments comes from the very first sentence of the study which states that the 2010 study “reveals that iPhone scores 84% higher in loyalty ratings than the nearest competitor, Google Android.” The trouble with this is that the comparison is quite vague, saying only that this “reflects the loyalty that mobile users have for the phones that they are currently using.”
Additionally, this graph isn’t really comparing iOS to Android on a personal level, it is comparing the likelihood that an iPhone user will recommend iPhones to others, to whether a Droid user recommend another Droid. Because there is only one iPhone, the statistic works fine from that end, but because there are so many choices of Android devices and carriers, that statistic holds little meaning and no comparative value, because there are so many outside factors aside from iOS vs Android that can skew the responses. Would a G2 user recommend the G2 to a friend if they know that friend will not switch to T-Mobile? I know if I were giving a recommendation, I would take into account my friend’s commitment to iTunes, carriers, and tech savvy. But, if I’m buying for myself, I’m buying Android.
The trouble comes from using Net Promoter Score, which means that responders were asked a single question about the likelihood of recommending a product to a friend or colleague. In general, this is done on an 11 point scale (0 to 10), with those responding with a 7 or 8 as “passive”, 9 or 10 as “promoters” and anything under a 6 as “detractors”. Somehow, Zokem has translated those responses to a 200 point scale (-100 to 100), which only serves to make the comparison more skewed. When those ratings are averaged out, a score of 75% is considered very high, although there is no evidence to show that this is actually a better prediction of user “loyalty” than something like repurchase rate.
The real value is in the following graphs, which show the flaws in the implications drawn from the study by conveniently showing the contradictions in the trademarked study data from Zokem with real understandable data on what people do when faced with actual purchase choices.
The second and third graphs show similar data, but widely different information. The Zokem trademarked “Platform Churn” is designed to show “the likelihood to shift to a competing platform during the next 12 months”, while the “Repurchase Rate” chart seems the most straightforward of all the data, showing users “likely to buy a similar device in the future”.
As you can see, although Android supposedly has far lower loyalty, and a higher “churn” rate than iPhone, Android users are more likely to stick with Android when buying a new phone with an 89% repurchase rate compared to iPhone’s 85%.
So, we have two studies which come up with the same results: when using an obscure “loyalty” metric, people are more “loyal” to iPhone than Android; and, when using straightforward repurchase rates, Android users are just as loyal if not more so than iPhone users in staying with the OS. This is quite a contradiction, yet all of the headlines you’ll see want to talk about how much more loyal iPhone owners are. It seems to me that users for both iPhone and Android love their systems. We can’t know exactly what thoughts come into play with the recommendations, whether the data is skewed because of the survey methodology, or the basic differences within the OS ecosystems. We don’t know how much iTunes, or the spread of the Android devices may factor in to the choices people made. All we do know is both user bases are continuing to buy back in at the same rates. I guess that’s just not as exciting a headline, but it sounds more honest to me.