South African smartphone prices rise, sales fall due to COVID-19

South African smartphone sales and prices were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown and the value of the rand.

This is according to several major South African mobile operators who spoke to MyBroadband.

While the online sale and delivery of smartphones were allowed to continue even at lockdown level 5, many people were still unable to purchase phones.

Most South Africans do not have access to digital payment solutions and still need to visit physical stores to buy them.

The decrease in sales corresponds with global trends as measured by Gartner, which showed that less than 300 million smartphones were sold in the first quarter of 2020.

Compared with the same period in 2019, shipments dropped 20%, with Samsung and Huawei particularly hard hit by the impact of the pandemic.

Nonetheless, the companies managed to maintain their respective first and second spots for most sales and also appeared to make a strong showing in South Africa.

MyBroadband asked mobile service providers in South Africa how their smartphone sales were affected by the pandemic and which were their best-selling smartphones.


A Vodacom spokesperson said well-known brands such as Samsung and Huawei have dominated sales in the mid-to-high range in 2020, while its own Vodacom-branded devices sold best at the entry-level.

It also noted an increase in demand for budget brands like Tecno and Hisense.

The operator’s smartphone sales experienced a sharp drop under level 5 restrictions, however.

Since then, sales have recovered significantly, but have not returned to pre-lockdown levels, the spokesperson said.

“Nonetheless, Vodacom worked closely with suppliers to ensure that optimal supply levels were maintained during this period to meet customer requirements,” the company said.

The rand’s sharp decline and exchange rate volatility led to an increase in the retail prices of devices.

“Through its financial processes, Vodacom continues to mitigate the impact of the price increases on customers,” the spokesperson added.

Vodacom Logo


MTN said it had seen “great success” in its device sales for the first quarter of 2020.

The company said its best-selling smartphones in the high-end market were the Huawei P-series, while Mobicel devices performed best at the low-end.

The operator said smartphone manufacturers have experienced delays in shipments, as they have had to look at alternative shipment options with air freight being prioritised for medical supplies.

“Fortunately MTN purchases bulk devices from manufactures way in advance,” the company said.

“We continued to offer sales and support to our customers during lockdown level 5 by means of online or call centre purchases,” MTN stated.

MTN Store

Cell C

Cell C said Samsung handsets have performed particularly well, with the Galaxy A30 and Galaxy A30s topping its contract sales, while the Samsung A2 core was the most popular smartphone on prepaid.

The operator said stock on certain brands was affected before the lockdown due to the Chinese New Year and lockdown.

“While it did worsen during the lockdown in South Africa, we are now starting to see an ease in the limitations of deliveries and full requirements are being fulfilled,” Cell C said.

It added the prices of most smartphones have increased, which have attributed directly to the fluctuations in the exchange rate.

Cell C Logo

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South African smartphone prices rise, sales fall due to COVID-19