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Energy Customers Want Better Tools to Manage Their Usage

Suppliers’ mobile apps concentrate on basic account functions, while spiralling prices have left consumers looking for more sophisticated tools to help them monitor and control how much energy they are using.

Simon Harvey
Simon Harvey

Publicis Sapient’s second Energy Supplier Mobile Experience Barometer report has found that energy retailers have a big opportunity to help customers manage the impact of the energy crisis on their pockets by upgrading their mobile apps to include energy management tools and personalized advice.

Our research shows that many people expect their suppliers to help them manage their energy consumption more effectively. But with a few exceptions, companies have yet to capitalize on the opportunity to use their mobile presence to deliver the smart tools, information and services their consumers are looking for.

The Mobile Experience Barometer 2021

First published in 2020, the UK Mobile Experience Barometer assesses the mobile offering of ten UK suppliers, dividing them into two groups – incumbents such as British Gas and Scottish Power and challengers that have joined the market more recently including Bulb and Octopus. The research assesses these suppliers’ mobile presence under a range of headings and aims to offer timely insights into how customers are using their apps, how they are managing their energy consumption and what features and services they would like to see.

UK consumers are well known for having a highly price-driven and transactional relationship with their energy suppliers. They are heavy users of price comparison websites and switch relatively frequently – 55 per cent of our survey respondents have been with their current supplier for two years or less.

But despite their general lack of engagement with energy suppliers, our research also highlights that the UK’s price-conscious consumers have bought into the idea of actively managing their energy use at home. Some 61 per cent agree that it’s important to do this and another 28 per cent somewhat agree. Many of them also believe that their energy supplier should be helping them to use less energy (45 per cent agree, 36 per cent somewhat agree). Mobile apps, with their ability to facilitate immediate, two-way communication with customers and provide compelling energy management tools, are the natural channel through which to do this.

Suppliers’ mobile engagement challenge

But suppliers face a major consumer-engagement challenge. Although smartphone penetration is extremely high in the UK and smartphones have become the preferred way for consumers to engage with brands across a wide range of sectors, just 45 per cent of consumers have downloaded their energy supplier’s app. This compares to nearly 80 per cent for the banking industry.1

Among those who haven’t downloaded an energy app, 41 per cent were not aware their supplier offered one, highlighting how much further companies need to go in communicating the benefits of their mobile proposition and how it differs from their website.

Despite the low usage of mobile apps, our research finds significant appetite among UK consumers for more sophisticated mobile functionality than most providers are currently offering. There is also strong evidence that this appetite has increased since the first round of research last year.

Nice-to-have features become must-haves

Features that were a year ago regarded by consumers as differentiators – ‘nice to have’ enhancements – are now seen as must-haves. Examples here include push notifications, usage visualizations, FAQs and contact details. Similarly, this year we found strong demand for features that we categorize in the Mobile Experience Barometer scoring system as Game Changers – advanced functionality that most consumers do not request unless prompted. Examples include smart-home services, real-time energy advice and dynamic pricing.

This suggests that consumers have become more discerning, and that their requirements have been shaped by app innovation and development in other sectors, where features such as notifications are standard.

Most suppliers, however, are a long way from capitalizing on the opportunities to address this demand. As a result, a significant minority of consumers have turned to third-party apps to find the smart tools they are seeking. Some 22 per cent already use apps such as Nest, Hive (owned by British Gas), Samsung SmartThings and SolarEdge to track and manage their energy use. For suppliers, this should be a cause for concern.

Incumbents vs challengers

The Mobile Experience Barometer compares the mobile offering from ten incumbent and challenger suppliers under two broad headings: features and functions, and experience. We identify the top individual performers under those two headings, comparing their results against last year, and also assess how incumbents and challengers are performing against each other collectively. The incumbents comprise British Gas, Scottish Power, E.ON, E.ON Next, EDF and SSE, while our challengers are Bulb Energy, Octopus Energy, OVO and Shell.

Overall, our research suggests that both groups have improved their app offering over the past year and so register higher scores on most criteria than in 2020. However, this year we a divide in the market. Incumbents are concentrating on delivering basic app functionality such as customer onboarding to a high standard, while challengers are putting more emphasis on game-changing functionality that transforms the consumer experience.

To assess and compare the features and functions of the different apps, we score them under three headings – Must Have, Differentiators and Game Changers.

Little improvement on 2020

On average this year, providers improved their scores in this area by less than 2 per cent with six of the ten making little or no gain year-on-year. The top three in order are British Gas, Scottish Power and Octopus. British Gas did not improve materially on its 2020 score, while Scottish Power and Octopus made big gains (40 per cent and 102 per cent respectively). The other provider to note here is E.ON, which increased its score from last year by 56 per cent. Octopus benefited from adding Game Changer features including its Agile Tariff, a time-of-use tariff that allows customers to take advantage of off-peak periods when prices drop to consume electricity more cheaply. Octopus has also added integrations with smart home devices and voice-based functionality since 2020. By contrast, Scottish Power improved by developing Must Have and Differentiator features such as the ability to view and apply for other products in-app, improved customer support and visualizations of energy consumption.

In the race between incumbents and challengers, incumbents have increased their lead in providing the basic, must-have features that consumers demand, while challengers seem to have focused more of their efforts on providing Differentiator and especially Game Changer features to deliver an app experience that goes beyond basic account management.

In assessing suppliers’ app experience, we assess five criteria: brand personality, intuitiveness, support and self-service, contextual marketing and connected experience. Under these headings most suppliers made medium to large gains, with only two failing to improve on their 2020 scores.

Incumbents gain but brand personality is lacking

The top three are British Gas, Scottish Power and in joint third Bulb and E.ON. These suppliers increased their scores by 6 per cent, 100 per cent, 27 per cent, and 55 per cent respectively. Octopus also improved its score significantly by developing its ‘connected experience’ offering, particularly with the use of open APIs and connections to smart home devices.

Many suppliers have failed to improve on their brand personality score from 2020 and our research found that brand personality tends to be utilitarian and indistinguishable, particularly in relation to tone of voice.

Incumbents lead challengers everywhere except in brand personality this year and have overtaken challengers since 2020 in three of our five categories thanks to big improvements in the usability of their apps over the past year. They now lead in intuitiveness, support and self-service and contextual marketing, although both groups performed relatively weakly in this area.

Conclusion: crisis heightens the mobile opportunity

The results of this year’s Mobile Experience Barometer demonstrate that there is significant scope for most providers to improve their mobile offering.

Given the spiralling cost of energy and the withdrawal of cheap fixed tariffs, most customers no longer have the option to save money by switching. This leaves managing their energy consumption better as they only practical way to reduce bills. Customers are looking to their suppliers to do more to help them, and we see mobile apps as the key enablers.

The winners will be the providers who can equip their customers with information and tools to help them to save money. Customers expect more than generic hints and tips on energy saving. They are seeking features such as time-of-use tariffs and contextual information based on their smart meter data – such as breaking down consumption by appliance (as provided by British Gas) or offering comparisons with similar households – along with timely, actionable advice.

They also want more integrations with third-party apps such as Alexa or Google Home, as well as energy management apps such as Hive or Nest that give them greater control over their energy consumption. With their focus predominantly on basic account-management functionality, most energy suppliers are failing to grasp this opportunity to provide consumers with the intelligent, value-added services they want.

Finally, we believe their generally poor performance on brand personality illustrates a further opportunity: to use more distinctive brand personality to differentiate their offering in a market where switching based on price will be a less powerful trigger for consumer choices, at least until the energy crisis is behind us.



Simon Harvey
Simon Harvey
GVP, Utilities Leader, EMEA & APAC