European consumers are underwhelmed despite the big ‘digital switch’

Businesses that fail to capitalise on the public’s digital curiosity risk losing customers, say 48% of consumers in a recent European survey. And only 32% of European consumers believe the companies they interact with now deliver an improved digital experience compared to before the pandemic.

These stark findings come from a new study by VMware of more than 6,000 consumers. They reveal that while there has been a seismic digital switch, businesses have not captured the attention of customers, who are feeling largely underwhelmed.

Key industries have fallen short on delivering cutting-edge digital experiences, according to the research. Those experiences might range, for example, from retailers enabling card payments, to tracking deliveries online from factory to home, or engaging with a new application that provides an even greater level of customisation throughout the ordering process. This is despite two-thirds (66%) of survey respondents identifying themselves as ‘digitally curious’ or ‘digital explorers’ signalling a receptive and readily available digital audience.

This should act as both a warning and an opportunity for businesses, with 48% of consumers stating they would switch to a competitor if their digital experience doesn’t live up to expectations just 13% would remain loyal.

Matthew O’Neil, industry managing director, Advanced Technology Group, VMware says, “There is no question that the development of new digital experiences has been integral to many businesses’ very survival over the past 12 months.

“However, while many companies successfully made the digital switch, our consumer insight shows that many have not delighted their customers with these new online experiences. Businesses who fail to focus on improving digital experiences are likely to lose customers but those that do it well have everything to play for.”

Matthew O’Neil

Consumers’ digital expectations should come as no great surprise, they are seeking a high level of security and protection of their data (66%), ease of use across all their devices (44%), and simple and effective applications (41%).

What is clear is that consumers want companies to get things right the first time. Even in this difficult climate, only 30% of respondents feel more forgiving when trials for new digital services, aimed at improving the customer experience, go wrong.

There is also appetite for more digital-first experiences for those organisations that want to truly impress their customers. Almost half (46%) of the public would welcome an increased use of virtual reality by retailers to better understand how products might look in their homes, and over one-third (36%) of consumers see their phone as more important than their wallet for financial transactions rising to almost half (47%) in 18-24 year olds surveyed. 

O’Neil continues, “2020 was the year of the digital switch. In 2021 digital services will need to live up to consumer expectations. That means creating, delivering and protecting great applications, services and experiences for digitally-hungry consumers. And a move from digitising to becoming digital.”

Companies across retail, healthcare and financial services “Digitally curious” respondents self-identified as individuals that look forward to businesses and governments delivering more digital experiences and service, and “Digital explorers” self-identified as individuals that expect the companies they interact with to be at the cutting edge of the digital experience 


This research was conducted by an online survey, commissioned by VMware, of 6,109 consumers across 5 countries UK (2,069), France (1,028), Germany (1,005), Italy (1,004) and Spain (1,003). In this online survey, consumers were asked to rate their digital experiences across five sectors retail, healthcare, financial services, education and government (local and national). YouGov conducted the survey between November 2020 and January 2021.

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