In a country with over 90 million people facing poverty, being able to afford high-end mobile gadgets is a privilege. iPhones are popular in Nigeria for being a marker of wealth and class, two things that set you apart from the average Nigerian. Although there are about 170 million mobile subscriptions in the country, only about 10–20% of the population currently uses a smartphone. Of this number, Android users make up the majority with 85% while only about 10.36% use iPhones, according to this report by Statista. The bulk of iPhones from markets are pre-owned, as this is still what most people can afford. The brand-new iPhone 12 costs over ₦400,000 for the 64GB model, which is more than the average Nigerian’s annual salary and 13 times the minimum wage.

Aisha Hussaini is the founder of Keza Africa, a phone financing platform that lets Nigerians buy smartphones and pay conveniently. They just completed their beta phase, and according to Aisha, 90% of the phones demanded by their users during this phase were iPhones. “Nigerians believe they need to use an iPhone, regardless of the model and condition. It might not be the most sold phone in the market because of people’s purchasing power, but it would be if more people could afford it.”

Rukky, who runs a makeup studio, uses an iPhone because the quality of photos is better. She creates content for her social media pages and iPhones have clear cameras that make her content more appealing. “I can’t take good pictures of my clients with a Tecno or Infinix phone, because the pictures will just not be as clear. iPhones are a good investment for my business and content creation journey.”

When asked why she didn’t explore other high-end phones with crisp cameras, her response was that they were expensive. “My iPhone 11 is used and cost me ₦250,000. All these other phones that can compete with the iPhone in terms of camera quality are not as popular in the market, so you’ll hardly get a used version.”

James is a phone dealer in Lagos who sells iPhones in the famous Computer Village, a market in Lagos where people buy phones, laptops, accessories, and other types of computers. He imports iPhones from various countries—the UK, China, Dubai, and the US. These iPhones are all commonly called “London-used”, regardless of where they have been imported from. His agents or friends who live in these countries go to Apple stores and purchase pre-owned iPhones which users trade in for newer models. A typical order or “batch” takes about three weeks to arrive in Nigeria. 

“Most of the people who have iPhones do not buy brand-new ones. For every 20 iPhones I sell, only one will be brand-new. You need to factor in the cost of iPhones to understand this. A brand-new iPhone 11 is over ₦350,000. Why will they buy that when they can get the London-used version for ₦250,000 that does the same thing? Most people here do not buy the phone for anything other than the camera, and the camera on a used and brand-new phone is the same. The only difference might be when it comes to battery life, and a lot of them do not mind.”

James started his business seven years ago. While he started importing different types of phones at first, he has now streamlined his goods to only iPhones. The reason for this: demand. More people demand pre-owned iPhones than any other brand of phones. The people who care about what other brands like Samsung, Google Pixel, and other high-end Androids have to offer typically can afford to buy them brand-new. 

Beyond selling, phone dealers like James also buy used phones from people who often want to upgrade or need emergency cash. “Regardless of how outdated the iPhone is, we buy it because there is always going to be someone else who wants it. We don’t do this with other phones because people do not demand them as much. This is why people opt for iPhones even if they cannot afford them, because it serves as some form of investment,” James says.

“I have a customer who bought a London-used iPhone X from me in May 2021 for ₦150,000. She came to sell it a couple of weeks ago, and I bought it back from her for ₦100,000. That’s a loss of just ₦50,000 for her after 18 months of use. The reason I was confident about buying back the phone from her is that there’s someone else out there who will buy the phone from me very soon—no other brand can guarantee that in this market.”

Pre-owned phones get a lot of bad PR for being defective, but Hussaini believes this stereotype is wrong. “Pre-owned phones are good and can work just as well as brand-new phones if you inspect them very carefully before making a purchase. For us, we check for screen replacements and body scratches, if the phones were stolen, have experienced water damage, etc,” she shared.

“Even a lot of the supposed brand-new phones in the market are not entirely brand-new. Out of every 50 new iPhones, only about two will truly be brand-new phones that have never been activated. So people buy these phones thinking that they’re buying new phones with warranties, but there are none because they are already expired. If you have any manufacturer’s default, there’s really nothing the vendor or Apple can do for you, which is why IMEI checks are important for every brand-new iPhone you buy.”

Hussaini believes that the pre-owned phone market is important in the country. Despite the fact that their BNPL product gives Nigerians the ability to pay more conveniently, there is still a higher demand for pre-owned iPhones as new phones are still not within the convenient reach of the majority of Nigerians. 

“Looking at the country’s economic landscape, Nigerians just cannot afford to own good 4G and 5G smartphones, and pre-owned iPhones are a great way for people to access these smartphones at cheaper prices. Apple doesn’t retail brand-new iPhones below the iPhone 11 again, and so if you’re buying a brand new iPhone, it’d have to be from the iPhone 11 which costs about ₦400,000 with the rising forex rates.”

“At Keza Africa, we’re looking at our roadmap and creating a marketplace around pre-owned phones and people swapping their old phones. This is a goldmine because people would want these phones. The lust for iPhones is not going to slow down anytime soon, so we might as well find ways to make them even more accessible,” Hussaini concluded.

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