Cutting the Telephone Cord

ccA new milestone has been reached in the United States:  For the first time, more than half of all American adults live in households with cellphones but no landline telephones.

That’s the key takeaway finding from a recent survey of ~24,000 Americans age 18 and above conducted by market research firm GfK MRI.

This finding  mean that in just six years, the percentage of adults living in cellphone-only households has doubled. In GfK’s 2010 research, the percentage was just 26%.

Not surprisingly, there are significant differences in the findings based on age demographics:

  • Millennials (born 1977 to 1994): ~71% live in cellphone-only households
  • Generation X (born 1965 to 1976): ~55%
  • Boomers (born 1946 to 1964): ~40%
  • Seniors (born before 1946): ~23%

Interestingly, despite their relatively low adoption rate, the percentage of Seniors living in cellphone-only households actually quadrupled over the past six years.

As for an ethnic breakdown, Hispanic Americans are significantly more likely to live free of landline phones compared to the other three major groups:

  • Hispanic Americans: ~67% live in cellphone-only households
  • Asian Americans: ~54%
  • Whites: ~51%
  • African Americans: ~50%

Perhaps surprisingly, the Northeast region of the United States has the lower incidence of cellphone-only households (~39%), compared rates all over 50% in the other three regions. As it turns out, the Northeast has relatively higher levels bundled communication services (TV, Internet, landline and cellphone services), but one suspects that the figures will come into alignment in the next few years and many of those bundled programs bite the dust.

At this rate of change, could we be seeing effectively the end of landline phone service within the next two decades? It seems likely so.

How about you?  Have your cut the phone cord yet?  And did you regret it for even one minute?

Toll-Free Phone Lines: Does the Prefix Matter?

The first toll-free phone lines, called WATS lines (for Wide Area Telephone Service), were introduced in the United States nearly 50 years ago. For years thereafter, all toll-free numbers used the prefix “800,” so that many consumers came to refer to toll-free lines as “800 numbers.” And they were very popular with consumers because of the then-relatively high cost of long-distance calling.

But just as the rise of cell phone popularity caused a proliferation of new area codes, the growing popularity of toll-free phone numbers meant a dwindling supply of lines within the “800” prefix. Hence, the introduction of “888,” “877” and “866” toll-free prefixes have been made over the past 13 years to expand the supply of available lines.

But old habits die hard. Even today, many consumers reflexively refer to all toll-free lines as “800 numbers.” And indeed, a study conducted earlier this year by Engine Ready, a California-based search marketing software and service firm, finds that “800” lines actually outperform the other prefixes when it comes to phone conversions.

For the study, Engine Ready sampled ~18,000 visits to a single lead-generation web site. The visits were driven by a Google AdWords search engine marketing campaign, producing ~2,600 call-in and online conversions. Visits were split evenly among four web landing pages that were identical save for the call-in response action that contained distinct phone numbers featuring the four different toll-free prefixes.

While little difference was observed between the four prefixes in online conversion behavior (form fills), the “800” prefix clearly performed best of the four toll-free lines for call-in responses. Its conversion performance ranged from 20% to 60% better than the three other phone lines — that despite the fact that there was no practical difference at all between the phone numbers except for the different prefixes.

Moral of the story: Even in today’s “the only thing that’s constant is change” environment, sticking with the “tried-and-true” when it’s possible to do so can be a pretty smart move. And if it’s inbound telephone sales you’re doing, make sure you insist on getting one of those old-fashioned “800 numbers.”