I was reading MTN’s media statement announcing two new Pay As You Go price plans, feeling rather snarky about my interaction with mobile phone providers in general because there are so many packages out there and not enough clarity for consumers.
I wondered how ordinary consumers feel about the way information on mobile phone packages is being presented to them. Do they also get information overload and stick to what they've got /take whatever sounds close to what they need, and then escape, grateful they don’t have to do this for two more years?
To be fair, the networks are giving South African consumers a lot of choices in their product offering, which is a good thing. They are also tailoring their offerings to meet the needs of diverse groups; another good thing.
So maybe the problem is that I don’t put enough effort into the shopping process.In line the spirit of fairness, in the next couple of months, I’m going to shop for a mobile phone plan that meets my needs and share the results of my shopping experiment with you.
I haven't decided whether I'll go post-paid or prepaid. Currently, I'm on a prepaid plan and it works well enough, but if I find a post-paid plan that works for me, I'll also consider it.
Please note that I will not share the product information I gather from this experiment. The question I want to answer is, "how easy is it for a consumer to sift through available information on mobile phone packages in SA so he/she can make a well-informed buying decision?"
In case you're wondering, no, this is not a pro-Virgin Mobile rant. I've seen their advertisements addressing the same issue, but in my book, they are also not providing enough clarity.
1. The Objective
Compare mobile phone packages from Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Virgin Mobile so I can easily work out who offers me the best value for money.
2. The Process
a) Shop for individual package that meets my needs from service providers that offer packages from Vodacom, MTN and Cell C, rather than shopping individually from each provider’s web site. In addition to keeping the process simple, it also helps to work with someone who is unlikely to favour any one network provider.
b) Online portals under review should provide price comparison functionality.
c) Once I'm on the portal, the process should be straightforward. Essentially, I'd:
- choose a handset
- choose an airtime package that offers me the same number of talk minutes across all cellphone providers
- press enter
- and voila, I can see clearly what everyone offers on the same product.
d) Do a secondary search to shop on the web sites of individual network providers and/their service providers.
This was necessitated by the fact that the service providers I looked at did not provide Virgin Mobile offerings. Additionally, the network providers also have their own dedicated service providers.
My first subjects are Nashua Mobile and Autopage. I chose them mostly because the company names came easily to my mind. The experiment will extend to other mobile service providers in due course.
4. My Opinion
I don't know whether I missed the comparison feature, or if Nashua Mobile added it after my initial opinion of their web site. Probably the former - sorry. But this comparison facility is exactly what I have been looking for.
The problem is that the mobile providers don’t always offer the same number of talk minutes. Also, some handsets are not available to certain airtime plans. So in the end, I’m actually not comparing similar items, but guesstimating.
b) Autopage Cellular: Limited online choices
The Autopage Cellular web site did not work well for me, as I could not find the comparison functionality. Under “Packages,” you get various sub-sections including “Voice” and “Data.” The site provides a store locator and the option of ordering by phone.
In person service at the store is good, but sometimes I like knowing what’s on offer before I go. Also, I’d like to be able to compare my potential purchase quietly at home, and not at the store, were the customer consultant is putting on subtle pressure for you to buy something. Comparing items online first also helps me save time.