Brand retention: is it loyalty, or just a hostage situation?

by: Jonathan FeistMarch 15, 2014

We still love tablets

“iPhone users are a loyal bunch.” The words may strike a chord with the pro-Android reader, thus triggering the familiar debate of iOS versus Android. Things usually get heated and name calling often erupts. Why is this? What is behind brand retention and loyalty that leads us to quarrel with our fellow human being? What about Android users, are they loyal?

The Wall Street Journal commissioned a brand retention survey of users in the US, UK and Australia. They wanted to know how many people in 2013 replaced their smartphone with another from the same manufacturer.

WSJ Smartphone Brand Retention 2013

At face value, we see Apple as the clear leader in customer retention, and 76% is a respectable amount at that. The beloved, or not so much, behemoth of marketing budgets, Android powered Samsung, produced a healthy 58% loyalty. We could focus on the fact that Apple spent in the neighborhood of $1 billion on advertising in 2013, as compared to Samsung’s $14 billion, but I think there is one larger factor here that rules them all – ecosystem.

We’ve all learned that Smartphones are designed to operate best when connected to the ecosystem of the manufacturer. This throws an interesting curve at this research, as most of the listed companies essentially use the same ecosystem in Android. Sure, some of them offer their own apps and services, but they all connect to Google at some point, specifically to the Google Play Store to download apps.

The argument can be made that brand loyalty, in this regard, is not actually loyalty, it is more of a hostage situation.

On that premise, the retention numbers above simply then reflect each manufacturers ability to trap us into their ecosystem. Most Apple users cannot get away, and Samsung has locked in a good group for themselves. LG, HTC, Sony and Motorola increasingly set their people free to try out each other’s Android options. And, great news for Blackberry users, there are many new devices out there for you.

I digress. We all love our products because they rock! Each retained customer of each manufacturer has a unique reason to have upgraded within the brand. There is no definitive proof connecting Apple products to religious experiences. There are plenty of ways to get your iTunes music library into Google Play Music. In the end, we love our brands, but there is no reason to stick with a particular manufacturer if we do not want to, right?  Right?!?


  • guy with guts

    Lol wondering who are lg’s loyal fans.

    • Danny Alvarez

      Everyone who has an LG Nexus 4 or Nexus 5.

    • Shubham Singh

      Buddy before the nexus series most people woudnt have opted for an lg device. Lg G2 is one of the best flagship lg has evolved quite a bit after lg-google partnership.

    • Gauss

      I’m still using LG Optimus One, and still having LG KT610 (symbian), though I avoid any LG Nexus because lack of sdcard slot. Right now I’m using Sony Xperia ZR.
      Point is, I use whatever I see fit.

    • Jesus

      Their “Chocolate” line were very popular back in the days.

      Also I’m a fan of the G2. Dat bezel…

      I have a Nexus 4, which is awesome.

      I’m not saying that I am a ‘fan’ – I get whatever suits me best.

  • bob

    This is the most pointless survey ever because the apple model is the epitome of forced brand lockin, while android is the exact opposite.

    • Colby Leong

      A lot of people choose Apple because it is straight forward and just easy to use. While people who feel Apple is a bit too constricting will happily adopt Android. When you really dive through Android you have a whole new world of devices, like Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, and many more. After people choose their OS, is when they choose which brand.

      The cool thing about being Android is that switching to a different brand isn’t too hard, the OS will mostly be familiar, whereas some jumping from Windows to Apple or Android.

      I can see how people can feel like they’re “hostage” by their OS, but there’s a little more freedom to jump around to different devices using Android….I mean we all can’t be lucky like LeBron James and have our Note 3 completely erase and reboot, thus starting from scratch.

    • Gauss

      There’s no need to be loyal to a brand, because the reverse is also true, there’s no guarantee that company will always loyal to its costumer.

    • Guest123

      Yep, look at apple’s court filings against Samsung in Australia and it’s obvious apple knows this. Their big complaint to the court was, if a customer buys a samsung android device they will find it “good enough” and therefore apple will lose out on “locking in that customer to apple’s ecosystem” for life.

      I’m paraphrasing, but it’s why apple is suing samsung all over the world. They know if they can get an iphone or ipad in your hands they have a good chance of locking you into their ecosystem “for life” — sounds more like a sentencing.

  • Fundy fish

    Based on 3000 surveys…

  • K

    Samsung can also increase its loyalists to the level of apple level and also beat it… attracting apple fans!

    Until recently it only pushed apple fans more into apples arms by mocking them. But now i think it should reverse strategy.

    The best way to beat apple……take away its biggest strength……its fans.

  • number29

    The conclusions made from this research seem to be rather ‘fanboyish’. However, given the nature of this sight I can understand that you need to try and save face by giving the impression that Apple’s brand loyalty is somehow a bad thing. On the other hand, you’d gain a lot more respect if you just came the right conclusion in and open and honest manner instead of trying to fudge the findings.

  • IncCo

    Pointless survey as BRAND and OS loyalty is the same thing for crApple users. A proper survey would be Android vs. IOS loyalty.

    • filaos

      It’s more complicated.
      People don’t really care about their OS but they do about the services the OS allows them to access.
      The balance sheet is to the clear advantage of iOS : you can use Apple services AND Google’s whereas you can only use Google services on Android.
      When someone begins to use iCloud services, it’s done : they can’t go back without experiencing regression.

  • MasterMuffin

    Fanboys are the worst people in the tech world (and outside of it too). Try different stuff, nothing is ever the best and stop going online just to fight!

    • Shark Bait

      So true!
      If you come across them in the wild of the internet poke them with a stick a little and then avoid. Theirs no was to reason with their confused little heads.
      How can we spot them:
      1. Have a logo as their avitar
      2. Call plastic poly carbonate to up market it, without knowing what poly carbonate actually is
      3. Their douche bags
      5. denial of every thing better than them
      6. Crazy logic
      7. 2 world comments of “?????? Rules”
      8. A general pain in the ass

      Any thing else I missed?

      • MasterMuffin

        I’d say that’s a pretty complete list :D

        • Jonathan Feist

          This was a tough article. I really tried to present all ecosystems as equally as I could given the information I was presenting.

          Great synopsis of the fanboys!

      • cizzlen

        Agreed, I am really starting to grow sick of the pointless bashing and fan boy comments on countless sites that either praise Apple or Google or Samsung or HTC or whatever the hell else. I had a Droid X then a Galaxy Nexus then the One and now I’m looking in LG’s direction. Get over yourselves and realize there are great products all around. Consumerism should be about CHOICE ffs.

        • Shark Bait

          Totally!! I’ve had a phone from every major manufacture, and they’ve all had there strong points. Choice is great, it seems dum to stick to one thing like a cult.

          I am loyal to google however, but in the (unlikley) event some one offers better free services I’d swap.

          • cizzlen

            Exactly my friend. I would say I prefer Android right now because it’s been working quite well for me, however that could change in the future. Many are just unwilling to adapt to that change.

      • Colby Leong

        I see where you’re coming from, and to be honest I’m a Sony fanboy and I own the Xperia Z1. But, unlike others I can say that the Z1 does fall short of being the best phone. Everyone knows about Xperia Z series screens (pre-Z1 Compact), and to say it’s for privacy is stupid. At an angle everything loses color and some detail, if I was in a public place anyone next to me could see what I was doing, they just might have to squint through the gray hue.

        The camera on the Z1, needs some improvement, the lost of detail in the corner of pictures, the little specks of white, black, and grey that show up in any picture that isn’t properly lit. From the sample shots I’ve seen from the G2, detail is clearly better.

        However with that said, I do like Sony’s omnibalance design, and the direction they are headed in since the release of the Z. While I’m not a fan of this 6 month cycle I understand the need to always be caught up with the competition. All-in-all I’m a tech fan, I like Sony and can’t wait to see what else they can bring, but I’m still interested in other companies like Samsung, HTC, LG, and everyone else.

      • MadCowOnAStick

        9. Doesn’t know the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.”


      • thartist

        Dude your orthography is seeeriously lacking! Or… autocorrect/word prediction happened.

    • Sam

      Fanboy my gusta!

    • Jesus

      Sorry, but that’s rich coming from you.

  • Luka Mlinar

    When i see people buying one Samsung after another, each one looking uglier than the last; I feel sorry for them. Like they joined a cult. But what can you do, they are as much stubborn headed as Apple users and there is no changing their mind.

    • Luka Mlinar is an idiot

      Indeed, the cult of a good user experience. I hated my Galaxy S3, LOVE my Note 3. You have to be completely blind to say that the S3 is better looking than the Note 3, which is what you imply in your post. But you can continue to feel sorry for me, as I continue to use the most capable/futureproof phone ever made.

      • RusticKey

        I like how you created an account just to smack him across the internet.

      • Luka Mlinar

        Only a cult follower would go so far. You are defending a brand that has the most bloated Android OS on the market and makes it’s new flagship phone look like a band aid.

        • PoisonApple31

          This is really a stupid statement considering all the skinned Android phones have considerable space taken up on their internal storage. Note 3 and G2 each have about 8GB of storage reserved for the system memory. HTC One a little bit less than 8GB? Technically you may be right (as if 1 less GB of usuable space would make someone buy a different brand), but these comments are meant to say that only Samsung phones have bloat which is not true.

        • Jesus

          Why don’t you just come out and say say, “I am anti-Samsung”

          • Luka Mlinar

            I plan to buy a S4 black edition.

    • RusticKey

      I did not feel remorse from buying the Note 3, as I use the stylus a lot.
      I dare to any manufacturer to recreate a stylus experience that is better than the one in the Note series. I did not buy the Note 3 because of Samsung, I buy the Note 3 because it appeals to me. And there’s nothing wrong about that.

    • missashi

      No offense, but many people don’t buy phones just for looks, they buy what works for them. I Java a galaxy s4 and am happy with it and how it functions, how it looks doesn’t matter to me.

      • missashi


      • Luka Mlinar

        Yea but come on no one is gonna buy a phone that looks like the S5 does.
        The messed up thing is that the S4 black edition is probably one os the best looking android phones on the market. Yet they did what they did with the S5.
        S4 is a well balanced phone when you put CM on it.

        • PoisonApple31

          Many smartphone owners slap a case on their phone. Who cares what it looks like on the back if it’s going to be in a case anyway. With two-year contracts still the norm in the US, all it takes is one bad experience with one brand, and you won’t buy from them again. I have a Note 3, and the LG G2 is the closest I have been to thinking about another phone. The G3 very well could be my next phone if LG continues to do things right, but more than likely the Note 4 will be that same beast if not better on the hardware end.

  • Leandro Brandão

    I just pick the best smartphone for me, doesn’t matter the brand. But I’ve been with LG with nexus 4 and now LG g2. Probably I will upgrade to LG g3 in the future but if it’s not a good phone I just keepmy current one or choose another brand with no remorse.

  • Aar0nC

    People are just a creature of habit. So I a guess that it’s hard to break the habit after its already set.

  • Nanaoallen

    I would stick to iPhone (Apple) because I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on applications. So I think it’s more of a hostage situation.

  • StuManChu

    It is sooooooo easy as a consumer to not be held hostage by a device or ecosystem. I am an Android and iOS user and I have maybe 50 bucks across both ecosystems in apps. That is a disposable consumable level of spending. Pizza Money as i usually call such levels of spending. Not even close to an investment.

    For sevices and media such as books, music, movies, cloud storage, services like evernote and others, i have a lot more wrapped up in. But those are all platform independent so there is no lock in to an ecosystem.

    All it takes to not be held hostage is just a minimum of effort as a consumer. If hostage taking is a real problem it is because of ignorant consumers. And there probably are a lot of them out there.

  • patrik

    It’s been proven that iPhone owners have BLIND LOYALTY to the disgusting brand that is Apple.

  • abazigal

    I feel the situation isn’t as straightforward.

    To put some things in context, I am a heavy user of Apple products (owning an iMac, macbook air, iPhone, iPad and Apple Tv). That said, I do frequent this website because I generally enjoy the style of writing of the articles here, and maintain that I am not here to start a flame war of any sort.

    I went all-in with Apple not because of some blind loyalty to the company or some forced feeling of being locked in. Rather, it was precisely because my first experience with Apple products (my 27″ iMac in 2011) worked so well for me. I know what to expect when I purchase an Apple product, and it has come to represent, amongst other things, an integrated solution which just works right out of the box, and the guarantee of a minimum standard of quality. I mean it when I assert that I am happily enjoying my Apple devices, and have even integrated them into my classroom teaching.

    Apple isn’t some giant pharmaceutical company dispensing crucial, life-sustaining drugs which patients absolutely “must” buy at cutthroat prices if they want to live. Apple is just another hardware company, and I believe that people buy their products primary because they look great and work great.

    In the end, I think that’s what it really boils down to – people buying products which best suit their needs.

    To claim that people continue sticking with any one brand because they are being held hostage kinda limits the scope for meaningful discussion a lot, IMO. I feel it would be more meaningful if we could instead examine why people are sticking with their choice of device, and what they love about it. If you will bear me, I can also share about just what I love about Apple as a company / brand and their products.

    • Consumer experience undoubtedly plays a role in why people graduate to other products from the same brand, and build on their loyalty. However that doesn’t explain some of the ‘blind loyalty’ and refusal to admit the problems that do crop up. Apple has had just as many ‘bad issues’ security, hardware ect as any other brand out there. Their customers however seem to shrug those off and dismiss that something could potentially be a better fit or option for them.

      None of that though really ties into the ‘hostage’ argument. For most consumers looking to leave Apple behind it is an extremely daunting task. Just turning off iMessages so that you can get your messaging working again can for some be enough of an issue to cause nightmares. Then try syncing emails, contacts, iTunes, Apps ect. It is not any easy task for the average consumer. With Android on the other hand, you can swap companies, move to another platform (even apple if you wanted) and it is a relatively pain free experience.

      • abazigal

        I agree with Jonathan that this is indeed a very vast and all-encompassing topic which is difficult to tackle fully within one article. I am also trying very hard to keep my posts brief (trust me, this is the truncated version).

        Refusal to acknowledge teething issues on iOS devices is one thing, dumping them to embrace Android because of these perceived limitations is another issue altogether, IMO.

        For example, sure, I can’t set default apps on my iPhone or iPad, or change the keyboard, or do a myriad of other stuff that you Android users are capable of, but these are far from being deal breakers that would convince me to switch platforms, because to do so would mean also giving up on many other features which aren’t accessible outside of the Apple ecosystem, like tablet optimised apps, shared photostream, airplay mirroring and the iWork’s / ilife suite.

        So if you ask me, it’s a variety of reasons. From simply being very comfortable and satisfied with one platform / device and not having a desire to change, to being invested heavily in the ecosystem, to not liking the other alternatives available, to loving the brand or company itself and identifying yourself with their values. It’s a package deal, not an either-or scenario.

        • briarwood

          A few things stand out for me in this response, “teething, percieved, loving brand or company itself or identifying yourself with their values”.

          All mobile operating systems have had and continue to have real issues. None are perfect and calling them teething or percieved smacks of fanboyism.

          I dislike fanboyism of all kinds and for all OSes and manufacturers. No product is perfect.

          Apple though at least to me always breeds a special kind of fanboy. IMO worse than the others.

          I can’t even comprehend identifying with Apple’s values. They make very good products but their business practices are to me despicable.

          To say someone loves their values or the brand is shocking to me and something I don’t see with other fanboys but I see all the time with Apple fanboys. I believe Apple foments those attitudes in their customers. It reminds me of what politicians do with their base supporters. .

          • abazigal

            I have no doubt that Apple can be quite polarising – people seem to either hate them or love them.

            Business practices aside (I personally do wish they would stop their lawsuit-happy crusade against Samsung; it’s clearly going nowhere), here are some of the things I do like or in the very least, admire about Apple.

            1) Their emphasis on the end user experience. Apple does this by first focusing on the end user experience they want their consumers to have, then working backwards to see how best they can deliver this experience using existing technology. That’s why they take the trouble to do things like customising their own processors. That’s why we have the all-in-one iMac (with its silent fans, properly-calibrated screen and absence of all but one cable), or the iPad running a phone OS (optimised for touch, direct input and responsiveness) or even the Mac Mini or the iOS app store (makes it safe and easy to discover and purchase new apps).

            These are things you simply don’t see the competition doing before. If it’s anything I have learnt from Apple that I am trying to apply to my work as a teacher, it’s this – to begin with the end in mind.

            2) Apple doesn’t give a shit about what the rest are doing (or at least, they give the impression that they don’t care). They have their own ecosystem, and have made many ballsy moves like blocking flash, not including NFC, dropping ports and the cd-drive from their macbook air lineup, replacing Google Maps with their own offerings, and the latest – iBeacon. And time has proven them right (or at least, not wrong yet).

            Take lightning for example. It’s proprietary, non-standard, and you probably think that they switched just so they can sell $30 cables to their consumers. Me, I just find it so much more elegant and convenient than USB3.

            To you, that’s likely what makes Apple such an abomination. To me, that’s what makes Apple so great. As an educator in a public school, I can’t afford to adopt such a cavalier attitude, but I find it no less awesome. :)

          • briarwood

            All I’ll say in response to your reply is yikes, that is frightening to read. The similarities to politics and religion are scary.

            Time to turn off Disqus notifications.

          • abazigal

            I mean no distress, but I don’t really see the link with politics or religion as you say.

    • Jonathan Feist

      I do feel bad about having cut this article short, but the topic is just so vast and so encompassing that I wanted to get something out that made people think and talk. Thank you very much for continuing this conversation.

  • Jeffrey Heesch

    Of course Apple would have the highest retention by company. There are dozens of Android phone manufacturers to choose from, and only one iOS manufacturer to choose from. An Android user can go from Samsung to LG to Motorola to HTC, etc. An iPhone user can go from Apple to Apple.

    • Great point, and the exact reason Apple will never release iOS or any of their operating systems for use on anything but Apple branded products. While I’m not a big fan of iOS or MAC OSX imagine how many more software side users they could have though if they did.

      • Bilal Mahmood

        you can legally buy a copy of Mac OSx and install it to a windows machine as long as you can find compatible drivers that’s what i am using

        • Not according to Apple and the EULA, unless they have changed it since they last published it
          “You are granted a limited non-exclusive license to install, use and run one (1) copy of the Apple Software on a single Apple-branded computer at a time. You agree not to install, use or run the Apple Software on any non-Apple-branded computer, or to enable others to do so.”

    • number29

      Incorrect. An iPhone user can go from iPhone to Android to Windows Phone to Blackberry or to another iPhone. The question here is WHY do iPhone users remain as iPhone users? What is Apple giving it’s consumers that no one else does? That’s the real meat on the bones here.

      • adamhs

        Because Apple as well as Android locks you into their “ecosystem.” A lot of the people I know with iPhones are still with Apple because they’ve “already spent too much money on apps and music in iTunes.”

        I’m completely happy with Android but at one point I toyed with the idea of giving Windows Phone a try but decided against it for the same reason. “Invested” too much into Google Play already.

        • number29

          Tosh! The cost of apps is absolutely minuscule in comparison to the devices themselves.

          • adamhs

            You forgot music, movies, and TV shows.

          • number29

            All of which you can move to any device you like.

  • Roddisq

    Before I used to think Apple was good because it was easy to use…today I believe the opposite. Apple is complicated, don´t let you control your stuff is and locks you with itunes. Just terrible. Apple no more. If I liked people controlling me I would live in Cuba or North Korea.

  • John-Phillip Saayman

    What’s the Nexus retention numbers. Wonder how many people go from Nexus to nexus. Should be pretty high as well?

  • Be Cool

    I always lol when somebody speaks about Samsung’s advertizing budget.:)

    Well, Samsung’s HUGE advertizing budget goes mostly for sponsoring big sport or cultural events. No dime goes for the tech sites, “analysts”, and journalists. That made them mad at Samsung. And it’s easy to be seen on the media .
    Apple do the opposite with their budget.
    By the way Samsung loyalty has nothing to do with the Apple loyalty. Most of the Samsung’s loyal customers will buy any other brand if make better product(for them).
    It doesn’t apply to Apple fans, though.
    Besides the biggest Apple advertizing is, that they succeed to make stock holder from every apple’s fan. Thus made the ifans, restless fighters to advertize every Apple’s product. FOR FREE!!!
    It doesn’t apply to Samsung fans, though.
    And the last. APPL being the Wall Street’s favorite pyramid(because of the izombies) , made Wall Street to be huge Apple’s PR , too. And even with NO PRODUCT , Apple to be non-stop all over the media.

  • Rsanchez

    I am probably an Android fanboy, no denial in that regard. As far as brand loyalty, probably not, went from Samsung to LG and very happy with it. Also the new HTC One and the Sony Xperia phones are great devices.