Poor connectivity is frustrating shoppers


Test of shopping centre coverage reveals the top stores and shopping areas for a changing room selfie

Shoppers in Britain are unhappy with the level of mobile connectivity available in many high street shops, according to a new study.

With consumer research from independent network benchmarking firm, Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), showing that 87% of shoppers used a connected smart device on their last shopping trip, shoppers expect a reliable connection and consistent performance from their mobile devices across voice, internet and social media services.

However, when entering a shopping centre from the outside, another study from GWS looking at voice and data tasks on mobiles at over 100 stores in 10 UK cities, showed that signal levels on average drop 20dB to 30dB, which clearly presents a challenge for operators. Topshop comes out on top for overall mobile performance, while many stores such as John Lewis consistently delivered a poor experience at multiple locations across the country.

One of the starkest differences that the testing revealed was the performance when inside department stores on Oxford Street, London, versus outside on the main street. On the pavement, average performance across all networks was 100% failure free for both voice calls and mobile data performance. However, when inside, both John Lewis and Selfridges department stores experienced many dropped calls, mobile internet connection failures and slower internet connections speeds. To put this in context, sharing a selfie from inside John Lewis would take 5.5 times longer than it would if you were walking down the street.

The best bet for good service was Debenhams, where shoppers’ mobile service was 33% more reliable than John Lewis, great news for sharing purchases on social media or calling home to double check what Dad wants for his birthday this year.

The experience of mobile shoppers is better in the North, the study showed. Shopping locations such as the Trafford Centre in Salford and Metrocentre in Gateshead performed well for call success rates and data connection performance for both iOS and Android, while Meadowhall in Sheffield wasn’t far behind. As such, shopping locations in the North performed well and network providers delivered positive results to consumers in these locations.

However, the research warned shoppers looking for connectivity to steer clear of Wales; St David’s centre in Cardiff was poor overall – across both individual retail stores and in the communal areas – showing more work is needed.

GWS also surveyed 2,000 UK consumers to find out about their usage of mobile devices while at the shopping centre. Mobile devices are now more closely involved with the shopping process itself rather than just entertainment or checking social media. The most common use of mobile phones when shoppers are in retail stores is to compare prices online, something 38% of the respondents felt was their most common activity. The next most popular activity was checking social networks (30%) followed by messaging friends for advice on a purchase (23%). However, 28% of consumers admitted to having trouble making and receiving calls when shopping.

The survey results provided some real insights into how shoppers are using their devices and the frustrations they face. The research found more people complained about WiFi connectivity than 4G connectivity; 41% said poor connection to WiFi was the most common network problem experienced in store compared to just 27% that thought connecting to mobile was the most common problem.

Similarly, 28% of the respondents felt that slow data speed when using WiFi was the biggest problem compared to just 23% who felt it was slow data speed when using mobile (ie, 4G). These results indicate that offering WiFi alone is not enough to ensure connectivity; shoppers need both WiFi and mobile networks to perform well in stores.

Altogether, 21% of shoppers now use their mobile devices in changing rooms, which are often notoriously difficult for mobile signal to reach, presenting a new challenge to operators and retailers. When one out of four of shoppers considers online price comparisons as the most important consideration just before making a purchase in the shop, providing better signal in changing rooms could bring about a direct benefit to retailers’ bottom lines. Consumers are also using their devices in more locations around shopping centres and retail stores; two thirds (66%) of shoppers now use their phones the most on the shop floor, 52% in food courts and 49% outside the building, showing that there are now a wide variety of locations that mobile signal needs to reach equally well.

GWS tested individual retail stores and the communal areas in shopping centres and popular shopping locations across the country to uncover what shoppers can expect when they try and use their phones during those busy shopping periods. GWS ranked stores using its OneScore methodology which is based on how British consumers actually use their phones day to day.

Paul Carter, CEO at GWS commented: “Our recent nationwide test of shopping hotspots showed many shoppers are getting poor service at peak shopping times of the year. Mobile devices are now so integral to the shopping experience, whether calling loved ones to ask about a present for a sibling, sending pictures of items to friends on WhatsApp or just taking a break between shops in the communal areas.

“However, our tests show operators, retailers and shopping centre owners can clearly do more to deliver a more consistent service across the country. Retail sales around the Christmas season account for a large part of yearly sales and now Valentine’s Day, another large shopping period, is fast approaching; they need to be doing everything they can to encourage shopper footfall,” he concluded.


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