New competitive intelligence from Keynote Systems, The Internet Performance Authority(R), details the increasing importance of Web sites for prospective customers when shopping for and comparing cell phone plans and products. The studies also underscore the growing importance of online customer experience and service levels in this highly competitive industry.
According to the Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Wireless Web Sites study, more than 79 percent of consumers with Internet access prefer to use cell phone company Web sites to compare plans and products as compared to visiting a retail store for such comparisons. The customer experience study is based on research with 2,000 online consumers as they interacted with 10 leading cell phone service provider or aggregator Web sites.
A companion study, the Keynote Service Level Rankings for Wireless Web Sites, examined the responsiveness and reliability of industry Web sites. The service level study found wide variations in responsiveness and reliability among the cell phone Web sites studied, with some sites showing significant reliability and outage issues. In the service level study, Keynote analyzed over 6,500 separate measurements of each site over a three-week period. The study was designed to emulate users browsing for information, as well as purchasing a plan and phone online.
Keynote evaluated the Web sites of the following companies: Boost Mobile, Cingular, LetsTalk, Nextel, Qwest Wireless, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Virgin Mobile, and Wirefly.
At a time when the cell phone market is booming ( the market is expected to reach $110 billion and grow by more than 50% to 200 million consumers by late 2006) the competition for customers is intense. And the Keynote study indicates that the prospective customers' experience online has an important impact on their purchase intentions.
Wirefly, Lets Talk and T-Mobile were the three best performing sites reported in the Keynote Customer Experience Rankings for Wireless, an overall measure of online customer experience based on evaluation of more than 250 metrics. The aggregator sites, Wirefly and Lets Talk, although less well-known than wireless providers such as T-Mobile, scored well with consumers in large part because of the strength of their selection, as well as their plan and phone shopping process. These same factors surfaced in the study as the leading drivers of customer experience and conversion, driving likelihood to purchase.
When ranked for reliability, as measured in the Keynote Service Level Rankings for Wireless Web Sites, the Virgin Mobile, Sprint and Qwest Web sites performed best. Virgin Mobile and Qwest also ranked highest for responsiveness, joined by Cingular. While overall the response times of the wireless sites were strong, there was wide variation between sites, and the sites for several leading brands reported significant reliability issues and outages. One site was unavailable to consumers more than four percent of the time evaluated.
"In an industry where the reach and reliability of the wireless network is of paramount importance, companies need to make sure their Web sites are responsive and available," said Ben Rushlo, manager of professional services with Keynote. "If the Web site performs poorly consumers might translate that into a reflection on the brand and the wireless network itself."
In terms of customer experience, among mainstream wireless providers, T-Mobile was the standout site. More than any other site, T-Mobile was perceived as 'customer-focused.' That perception was also driven by the site's excellent performance in plan shopping and phone shopping capabilities. In addition, the site ranked first in visual appeal and for its online coverage map.
When comparing phones and plans online, consumers first shop for a plan, then for a phone. Almost three-quarters of consumers (74%) reported shopping for a plan first. The study also found that a site's performance in areas dedicated to plan shopping drive a consumer's brand perceptions and purchase intent more than any other factor.
Although aggregator sites performed well overall, close to 80 percent of online consumers had never heard of the leading aggregator sites.