Press release

3 Aug 2021 London, GB

Decoding the digital home: physical retail remains essential for many consumers, despite accelerating digitization

LONDON, 3 AUGUST 2021. Even as the world moves at breakneck speed toward digital adoption – compounded by national lockdowns – the fourth chapter of EY study, Decoding the digital home, reveals that brick-and-mortar retail remains a crucial element of the customer journey for digital home users.

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  • 41% of survey respondents prefer to buy a smart home device in a physical store
  • The traditional call center is still the preferred customer support channel for broadband and mobile queries
  • Low confidence in digital support tools; call centers preferred contact method

LONDON, 3 AUGUST 2021. Even as the world moves at breakneck speed toward digital adoption – compounded by national lockdowns – the fourth chapter of EY study, Decoding the digital home, reveals that brick-and-mortar retail remains a crucial element of the customer journey for digital home users. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents would prefer to visit a retail store when purchasing a mobile device or package, rising to 41% when purchasing a smart home device.

The survey – of more than 18,000 household residents across Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US – also finds that the traditional call center dominates customer support channel preferences, despite the heavily marketed advantages of frictionless digital tools such as chatbots. Speaking to an agent is still the preferred contact method for broadband (54%) and mobile customer queries (52%). Forty-two percent of consumers favor call centers because they don’t believe they can articulate pain points effectively without speaking to an agent and 45% believe instant messaging cannot handle complex queries.

Tom Loozen, EY Global Telecommunications Leader, says:

“While digital products and services are becoming ever-more sophisticated, it is a stark revelation that physical retail and call centers remain preferred entry points for the largest segment of digital home users – including younger consumers. Connectivity providers must recognize that traditional routes to market remain a vital part of the customer experience, and create better linkages between online and retail sales fulfilment. Service providers must also prioritize how they can mitigate the burden on call centers by improving customer confidence in online contact and better fusing agent and instant messaging capabilities.”

Limited understanding of digital home connectivity

Consumer awareness of the latest products and services is surprisingly low, according to the survey. Less than half (42%) of household residents understand the features of smart home products, and only 37% grasp the benefits of 5G mobile. Nearly a third (32%) also find communications services very difficult to understand while 36% struggle to differentiate between the services offered by various broadband providers. Notably, users aged 45-54 are least exposed to problems with understanding services (29%), compared with 36% of those aged 18-24.

Adrian Baschnonga, EY Global Telecommunications Lead Analyst, says:

“Digital assistants and smart speakers have been available for some years, so it is surprising that overall awareness of smart home products is low. At the same time, households find it difficult to tell broadband packages apart. Taken together, it is clear that service providers need to do much more to ensure their value proposition is clear and unique.”

Frustrations undermine positive customer experience

Chapter 3 of the study highlighted that the array of devices, services and platforms leaves consumers with confusion around content choices, again, particularly among younger groups. Thirty-nine percent of those aged 18-24 find it difficult to track their favorite content such as films and TV programs.

Similar user experience frustrations emerge in Chapter 4, with 36% of all respondents stating that they are not confident setting up a smart appliance and 27% agree that setting up and managing TV apps is complex. Navigating service provider websites is also a pain point for many: 20% find their mobile provider’s website or app difficult to navigate while 23% find their broadband provider’s website or app difficult to use. For 18-24-year-olds, this rises to 31% and 30% respectively.

Baschnonga says: “Consumers lack confidence setting up and managing connectivity and content services, while interacting with service provider apps and websites is a painful experience for many – with younger users particularly exposed. Connectivity providers must help customers become more self-reliant by offering clearer guidance on how to install services and manage preferences. Failure to do so will undermine customer satisfaction and loyalty.” 


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About EY

Decoding the digital home is based on an online survey conducted for EY of more than 18,000 household residents in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the USA. The study is produced annually, and this year’s research was conducted in December 2020 and January 2021. The survey is designed to understand changing consumer attitudes toward technology, connectivity and content experienced in the home – and the companies that provide these products and services.