Consumers find shopping the phone network category unrewarding says M&S Saatchi
Consumers find shopping the phone network category unrewarding says M&S Saatchi
A view from Phil Gault

Network brands have failed to learn from Apple and are 'dramatically underperforming'

It has been eight years since Apple first sold the iPhone, making smartphones sexy. But network brands such as EE have failed to catch up...

Jeff Bezos first described Amazon as "the unstore" in 2003. That one short word not only summed up his iconoclastic vision for the Company; it foresaw how an entire industry would evolve.

We are living in a world where every retailer needs to become an "unstore". With every passing day, it’s less about owning the channel and more about ensuring you’re equipped to sell wherever people happen to be buying. That may well be on the high street – but it could equally be whilst they’re on the sofa or the bus to work, watching catch-up TV or browsing their newsfeed.

Come 9 November, the iPhone will have been on sale in the UK for eight years. Sadly, it seems little of its magic has rubbed off on its retail partners

The brands that win in this environment will be those that are most shoppable; in other words, those that best understand how people shop their category, and use that knowledge to make themselves easier, more interesting and more rewarding to buy. By definition, these will also be the brands who do the best job of getting beyond the ‘old’ silos of online and offline – and the ‘new’ silos of mobile and social. They will see things in the same holistic way as their shoppers. They will have made themselves channel-blind.

Applying these principles, we’ve just completed an audit of the mobile network market. We were looking to uncover three main things. First, what factors and attributes most influence shoppers at a category level? Second, how do shoppers use the various touchpoints available to them? And third, how well (or otherwise) do individual brands meet shopper expectations across these different drivers and touchpoints?

Some brands perform better than others when it comes to 'shoppability'

The end-goal was to create a new metric: a Shoppability Score that shows how the category as a whole performs, and then ranks the individual brands within it.

The audit covered 800 people who had acquired a new smartphone for their personal use during the past three months. The findings indicate a number of areas in which the category is dramatically under-delivering. It also provides a revealing snapshot of brands’ strengths and weaknesses:

On the face of it, the market looks relatively static. 81% of the people we interviewed had chosen to stay with the same network.

Probing deeper, however, a more dynamic picture emerges. Shoppers can be divided into three segments of roughly equal size: those who did not consider switching at all; those who considered switching a little; and those who considered switching a lot and / or did eventually switch networks. We’ve called these segments the INERT, the INSPECTING and the IN PLAY.

If Amazon set itself up to be "the unstore", Apple set out to design the "unphone" – a product that would fundamentally re-invent the rules of the category

Not surprisingly, the IN PLAY segment uses the most touchpoints: an average of 6.2. INERTs use just 3.5. Relative to other categories, and given the scale of financial commitment involved, neither figure is as high as we would expect.

This begins to indicate the core category problem. Smartphones are sexy. Unfortunately, the process of buying them isn’t. Overall, shoppers simply don’t find the experience "interesting" or "involving".

This is equally true for IN PLAYs. Worse, because they find the journey less "smooth and easy" than the INERTs, they end up significantly less satisfied with the shopping outcome. This is not a positive signal in terms of future category growth.

Different brands exhibit different strengths and weaknesses by touchpoint. For instance: the EE website was felt to outperform the Vodafone site. Conversely, the experience of Vodafone stores was seen as superior to that provided by EE.

Worrying findings

Whilst some of these differences may appear marginal, their cumulative impact on a brand’s shoppability is significant. EE performed particularly weakly in our audit. Not only does it share the category problem of low involvement, it is found to be less easy to shop – in fact, markedly less easy than the likes of Tesco Mobile and O2. (Diving into the data, there seems to be an issue with EE’s quality control. The brand delivers a disproportionate number of ‘very poor’ shopper experiences.)

If Amazon set itself up to be "the unstore", Apple set out to design the "unphone" – a product that would fundamentally re-invent the rules of the category. Come 9 November, the iPhone will have been on sale in the UK for eight years. Sadly, it seems little of its magic has rubbed off on its retail partners.

The problem is not that people find the mobile networks difficult to shop. It’s that they don’t find the experience particularly rewarding. The consequence is that the most satisfied shoppers are also the most inert. If the category’s on-going challenge is to avoid being a dumb pipe, these are worrying findings.