Buying a Mobile Phone Online? Prepare for Confusing Content and Poor Customer Service

A substandard shopping experience and second-rate service are blighting Britain’s biggest mobile phone e-commerce sites, according to a new report from benchmarking specialists Syntagm ( Findings show that the majority of mobile sites suffer from poor navigation, lack of information and virtually no online support – failing consumers on some of the most basic services needed to buy a phone.

The benchmarking report compares user experience between 12 of the leading vendors – Argos, Carphone Warehouse, Expansys,, O2, Orange, phones4u, Tesco, T-Mobile, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone. Whilst visual design scored highly, with an overall average of 75%, account management scored just 12%, and online support was the weakest area across all sites, trailing the results table with a paltry 2%.

Most sites did not provide login accounts for purchasing – customers had to rely on email updates or ring customer service to track or cancel an order. And features which are mainstream on most e-commerce sites – allowing users to view or modify recent orders – are conspicuously absent if you want to buy a phone online (unless you’re shopping on the Expansys site).

When it comes to dealing with delivery delays and reporting or returning damaged goods none of the sites came up to scratch. Not one site lets customers ask a support question and get an immediate response online, although Expansys, O2 and Virgin offered online forums. When asked ‘How do I return a phone?’ Virgin’s automated Q&A service wonders if you would like to buy a phone. The other nine benchmarked sites would only deal with problems or questions through telephone help desks (often at national-rate charges).

Many sites performed poorly in providing effective product information. The content average was only 57% with O2 scoring the top mark of 83%. Trying to find a handset by feature was impossible on most sites, and only two (Three and T-Mobile) allowed potential customers to chat online to a sales advisor. And Tesco’s search facility returned products from across its entire product range – even though the search was performed from the mobile phone pages (a search for ‘LG’ turned up fridge-freezers and flat screen TVs as well as phones).

For online reviews and control over purchasing and support, mobile e-retailers could learn a lot from facilities customers have come to expect from sites such as Amazon. 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.

Tasks which consumers take for granted in a physical ‘bricks and mortar’ shop, such as checking whether a product is actually in stock, are surprisingly absent in UK mobile phone e-commerce. Expansys was the only site to include clear availability information for every product, and Carphone Warehouse provided a fully functional ‘phone finder’, but seven of the 12 sites surveyed scored zero on this measure. In fact, some even promised next day delivery of a phone that was out of stock.

As a whole, the sites left users to research and understand terminology, features and key purchasing decisions themselves. Other common problems included a lack of clear delivery information and, in some cases, checkout pages that would challenge even the most determined purchaser.

William Hudson, Syntagm’s CEO, comments: “Customer service should be a priority even if you aren’t physically dealing with a person. Based on our study, consumers are, at best, confused and, at worst, badly served by mobile e-retailers. If they want to build their brands as trusted online retailers, in the same league as sites such as Amazon, Dabs and More Computers, we would recommend they look at creating a more rewarding shopping experience and providing proper online support beyond the purchasing process – and especially when things go wrong.”


Notes for editors

About Syntagm:

Syntagm is a small consultancy based in Oxford. Established in 1985, it specialises in design for usability (user-centred design and user experience) and people development. It has worked more than 100 blue chip organisations across Europe and North America.

About the benchmarking report:

The benchmarking took place in late May and early June 2009, comparing the user experience between 12 of the leading UK vendors: Argos, Carphone Warehouse, Expansys,, O2, Orange, phones4u, Tesco, T-Mobile, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone.

Syntagm compared the sites across 13 categories: content, visual design, navigation, engagement, accessibility, trust, persuasion, shopping basket, search, selection, checkout, account management, and online support.

Each category received a numerical score and written observations. The numerical scores make it possible to see clearly where strengths and weaknesses lie for each of the mobile e-commerce organisations concerned, and improved scores can be used as targets for future development.

Additional sites can be benchmarked on request. Syntagm and its staff have no financial interests in any of the organisations benchmarked.

For further details of the report or to purchase a copy visit

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