The prepay discount war on the high street saw punters pick up handsets for as little as £10 during Q4 and take them to local dealerships for unlocking.
Dealers claimed customers were walking into their shops with, in some cases, “hundreds of prepay phones” in branded grocery bags to be unlocked for £5-£10. Such activity is linked with wholesale trading into black markets at home and abroad.
One dealer said: “My biggest order was from a guy who came in with an Argos bag with 550 phones in it. You’ve got to wonder. I had another unlocking order for 300 handsets and a load of retail orders from shoppers who just wanted to switch networks.”
Sales of prepay devices within multiple retailers, network outlets, high street non-specialists and supermarkets hit 670,000 in the week before Christmas, according to GfK data. Prepay sales for the last week of December were up 11 per cent on 2006.
During Q4, Woolworths sold one million prepay devices across its 800-store estate and Sainsbury’s shifted 250,000-300,000. Asda, meanwhile, had surpassed 100,000 mobile sales by Christmas and WH Smiths was selling prepay from 1,200 stores.
Angelo Nangpi, unlocking manager at MCP in Essex, said: “We’ve had a 40 per cent increase in unlocking. Most customers are buying phones on the high street and, probably, selling them on.”
Ricky Ahmed, Nokia repair technician at Mobile Phone Clinic, Ealing, said: “We saw unlocking rise 70 per cent at Christmas. Most are bringing in five phones at a time.”
“We were up about 30 per cent on unlocking,” said Walk & Talk Mobile proprietor Dipak Vora.