Mobile plans: Which mobile provider is most consumer-friendly?
Are you getting good value from your mobile phone plan? Would you even know how to check? For the second year in a row, we combed through the information provided by the three biggest mobile service providers and found that 2degrees customers are given the best tools to check they’re on the right plan.
While One NZ (formerly Vodafone NZ) sends out an excellent summary once per year, we didn’t think that was enough to make up for its lacklustre app experience. Meanwhile, Spark is only just launching its big new initiative in this space.
Why transparency is important
As a whole, consumers are paying too much for mobile plans. By regularly checking you’re on the best plan, you could make significant savings. However, in our 2023 telco survey, over two-thirds of consumers had stayed with their provider for five or more years.
We’d love to see New Zealanders reviewing their options every year, but it can be difficult to compare what you actually use to the plans that are available in the market.
A customer that can access their recent usage data can shop around and make an informed decision about the best plan to fulfil their needs.
So do the big three providers make it easy? We’ve scored them according to a set of criteria determined by what the Commerce Commission expects from the industry. It’s the second time we’ve run the review, after a debut in 2022.
How did each provider do?
Mobile app: 54%
Annual notification: 87%
One NZ has edged up in our rating since last year (back when it was called Vodafone).
We’re still not impressed with its app, which only reports over a 2-3 month window and presents regular plan spend in a completely separate menu to extra out-of-plan spend, forcing customers to do the maths themselves. The app is also used as a marketing tool – we had to scroll past a promotional image to reach the relevant section.
However, One NZ’s annual email summary (which is also sent via post to customers who don’t use email) is still the pick of the bunch. Average monthly usages are displayed clearly at the top of the page, followed by a monthly breakdown of data used, then information on other available plans.
The email will now recommend prepay plans for users with very low usage, and it’s sent from a monitored email address so customers can reply directly. Our only major complaint is that customers can’t see how much they actually spent each month – only an average across the year.
Last year, One NZ was the only provider to include international activity in summaries. This year, international calls, texts and roaming days have been removed to simplify things for the majority of users. We understand the decision, but it does inconvenience frequent flyers and those who haven’t yet switched to instant messaging services for international communication.
Mobile app: 90%
Annual notification: 72%
Last year, we found little fault with the 2degrees app. Thankfully, despite a year of corporate change at 2degrees, the company didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. That means the app still provides an easy-to-find, clear and detailed summary of how much you’ve used and spent. It’s far more transparent than the apps of its competitors.
However, 2degrees also hasn’t made any changes to its annual email template, which isn’t quite to the same standard. While it’s reasonably easy to see what you’ve used, the email doesn’t tell you how much you’ve spent. Rather, you’re told how much you will spend over the following year if you stay on the same plan. That isn’t what the Commission expects, and it isn’t very useful.
We also weren’t impressed that the suggestion to look at alternative plans is buried at the bottom of the email, and consists of a link to the 2degrees website rather than having plan information right in the message. 2degrees says this is to ensure the plans are always up to date.
Still, on the whole, 2degrees customers will have the easiest time assessing their own needs and choosing the right service for themselves – something to keep in mind the next time you’re looking for a new mobile provider.
Mobile app: 64%
Annual notification: 66%
The Spark app serves up practical, easy-to-understand data on usage and spend. Unfortunately, it’s hidden behind menus where most users won’t find it. If you’re a Spark customer, we’ll help you out: go to the usage tab, select your mobile number, then press “View history” followed by “Usage & spend history”. You’re welcome!
Spark’s approach to annual notifications has been to text all customers with a suggestion to check the app or web portal, rather than sending personalised summaries. However, in the past month, Spark has launched a new system by which customers are sent email summaries of their usage, along with recommendations on whether they should stay on their plan or switch to another.
Early signs indicate that the new initiative is much more comprehensive and consumer-friendly than the text reminders, and it brings Spark in line with the other major players. The tool’s also used by Spark staff in stores and call centres to help customers onto the right plan.
Recommendations are currently based on usage from the past 6 months. We hope to see that extended to 12 months to capture seasonal effects. For example, if you use more data over the summer holidays, a suggestion you receive today could land you on a plan you’ll blow through in December.
Because the programme is brand new, we haven’t been able to consider it in our assessment this time around, but it’s a good sign that Spark is trying to improve in this area.
Summaries work, but few customers are actually seeing them
In August, we asked 1100 New Zealanders on monthly mobile contracts whether they’d received an annual summary from their provider. Only 13% of customers said they had, although another third of people weren’t sure.
The big three telco brands dragged the average down – for smaller providers, nearly twice as many customers reported receiving a summary.
2degrees customers are least likely to remember getting an annual summary
It’s worth noting that providers aren’t necessarily failing to send summaries. Consumers could miss the message for a variety of reasons – perhaps they assumed it was a bill, or their email client flagged it as spam.
However, for those that did remember getting a summary, it proved a useful resource. Two in three used the summary to review their plan and check it was right for them, and over 80% found the summary helpful.
The research shows that consumers value being provided with the information to choose their plan wisely. With that in mind, it’s very concerning that only one in eight people on monthly contracts report getting that information in the first place.
Companions don’t get summaries
With a companion plan, a primary account holder can add extra people to their mobile contract at a discounted rate. They’re perfect for giving children some autonomy while ultimately keeping mum or dad in charge, but savvy couples or adult friend groups can also use them to cut costs.
All three of the providers offer companion plans – 2degrees calls them Group Plans, while Spark uses the name Team Up. However, in all three cases, the primary account holder is the only one that receives an annual summary of usage and spend for the group.
If you’re a companion tagging on to someone else’s account, you can still review your usage in the app. But, because you won’t get that handy reminder once a year, you’ll have to remember to check.
What does the Commerce Commission think?
As the regulator for the mobile service industry, the Commission has requested for mobile providers to be more transparent in giving their customers enough information to compare plans.
Our takeaway from repeating this review is that the providers are making little progress. So is the Commission satisfied?
“After initial positive steps from the industry it’s disappointing that further improvement seems to have stalled" said Telecommunications Commissioner, Tristan Gilbertson. “Providers were given the opportunity to deliver benefits for consumers without intervention from us”, said Gilbertson.
“We now see a case for investigating the introduction of "right plan" obligations that would require providers to tell their customers when there is a better plan based on their usage and spend. It's important that consumers know when they have an opportunity to save and the ability to access those savings rapidly."
The Commission engaged us to conduct this independent review, and opened it up to non-members.