Mobile phone sites fail to connect

Despite selling the technology frequently used for social networking, Britain’s biggest mobile phone e-retailers are failing to plug into the phenomenon, according to a report from benchmarking specialist Syntagm.

The study of 12 leading mobile sites found that the majority offer very limited interactive features and don’t encourage user generated content, or attempt to foster a sense of community, in stark contrast to e-commerce leaders like Amazon.

Recent research from Ofcom revealed that 30% of British adults now have a social networking profile, with many accessing this virtual world via their mobile phone. And consumers have come to expect the same level of interactivity when shopping online: user reviews, self service and control over purchasing are commonplace everywhere from ASOS to eBay.

When it comes to buying a mobile, however, customers might as well skip the online experience and stroll into a ‘bricks and mortar’ store if they’re looking for an interactive shopping experience. Whilst some of the sites provided interactive search facilities or 3D phone viewers, only two (3 and T-Mobile) allowed potential customers to chat online to a sales advisor.

None of the sites made personalised recommendations based on previous visits, and most did not even attempt to show users the products they most recently viewed, a serious flaw given the amount of ‘site hopping’ people tend to do when shopping online.
Several sites subscribed to ‘read only’ third-party product reviews, but it wasn’t possible for users to make comments about their own experience of a particular product, or to leave questions to be answered by other punters.

William Hudson, Syntagm’s CEO, commented: “Successful e-commerce sites echo the sense of community that has made social networking sites so popular, by enabling users to communicate and share information. In our survey, only outsider Expansys came close, whereas its bigger competitors seem to have got their wires crossed when it comes to social networking opportunities. There’s a lot more they could be doing.”

Syntagm’s benchmarking report compared user experience between Argos, Carphone Warehouse, Expansys, mobiles.co.uk, O2, Orange, phones4u, Tesco, T-Mobile, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone.
The study concluded that the sites are failing consumers on some of the most basic services needed to buy a phone. And the biggest names were often the worst culprits: relative unknown Expansys was the only site to score above 50% on overall experience for online shoppers, putting its mainstream competitors to shame.

Hudson added: “At a time of intense competition between the main mobile traders, they need to offer their online shoppers a more engaging experience. Our report clearly shows where their strengths and weaknesses lie; we hope the companies concerned will make use of the information it provides.”