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Weighing up UK broadband service providers (and then staying put)


via Flickr © winnifredxoxo (CC BY 2.0)

More interesting stats on consumer behaviour (see - What consumers want: Are we sure it’s multichannel engagement?): a UK comparison site called Cable.co.uk has been doing some customer measuring and the results highlight the extent of consumer inertia in the UK broadband market. As with other household utilities (gas, electricity, for instance) there is a startling degree of ‘staying put’ exhibited by a full half of broadband customers, even though there are usually ample broadband choices -  my own post code offers 13 different providers, most with multiple offerings.

So here’s the headline result:

50 per cent of UK users have never switched broadband suppliers

43 per cent of those who have actually switched (just under 22 per cent of the total) have only switched once and only 8 per cent have moved broadband provider more than four times.

Of course there are at least two ways of looking at this result. It may be that users are relatively happy with their existing providers, especially  since the level of price competition is so high that any savings to be had by moving are marginal and outweighed by the risk that the new service may be more problematic that the existing one. Allied to this is the nagging worry that some sort of transitional difficulty will present itself - users are not sure what that might be, but something could go wrong making the whole process a pain.

Then there is just the perennial human condition of “why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?”

The Cable.co.uk editor-in-chief, Dan Howdle, thinks the figures point to a general consumer failure of nerve. "[As consumers] most of us are aware we could get a better broadband deal by shopping around, but there are barriers. There's friction.” he says.

"For one, most existing providers have retentions departments populated by an army of staff dedicated to talking us out of leaving. Most of the time that means either offering us a better broadband deal, escalating our problem or complaint, or both.

"Then there's the hassle of choosing a new provider, of installing new equipment, and the fear that there may be a period, however short, during which we have no internet access at home. Our advice is to not allow the fear of potential hassles prevent you from enjoying the additional speed, reliability and money that a new broadband deal could provide. Shop around and don't be afraid to make the jump."

But the problem is that the jump itself is still perceived as hazardous. Consumers don’t trust the comparison sites and worry about the nature of the ‘commercial arrangements’ being entered into by ISP and site owners. My conversations with ISPs indicate there is a widespread feeling (not in the case of Cable.co.uk, which looks squeaky clean I hasten to add) that there’s a widespread feeling that not all arrangements are completely open and, ahem, honest.

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