Helen Dickinson on Retail: Mobile Retailers Upgrade to Compete
Dickinson, Helen, Marketing
Our reliance on mobile phones has escalated to the point that we are no longer able to live without them.
OK, that's a slight exaggeration - but it is fair to say that many of us are unable to leave home without our mobile. Most people are probably more likely to waltz out of their house in the morning without their wallet or car keys than their phone.
The British appetite for the devices has led to a huge increase in the number of dedicated retail outlets. Our high streets and shopping centres have become filled with mobile shops, not to mention out-of-town retail parks. You can also buy them from a multitude of online retailers and via the tabloid newspapers, which are packed with too-good-to-be-true offers.
Helping drive up the number of outlets is the extremely broad mix of players fighting it out in this market - the network-owned stores, specialists such as The Carphone Warehouse and Phones4U and the non-specialists including Woolworths, Argos and Rymans. In addition, the supermarkets now command a healthy market share, and then there are the small independents that operate only one or two shops.
These retailers are nearly all growing their presence in the sector - repeating the performance of the industry's early days, when the networks fought to sign up customers. It all quietened down for a while, but then new entrants emerged and competition increased again. The result: both the networks and the big specialists are now engaged in frantic store-opening programmes.
Although there have been suggestions that these openings are of a bland identikit nature, what we are really seeing are some great examples of innovation from the major players. Among the networks, both 3 and Vodafone have been opening 'experience'-type stores, aiming to shift the focus away from the traditional hard-sell that mobile phone stores have been accused of in the past, and seeking instead to better highlight the data and content services that mobile phones now offer.
Vodafone, along with other operators such as Orange, has also opened a number of kiosk units to overcome the space limitations at locations such as railway stations. David Beckham's favourite network has also been developing vending machines that dispense pay-as-you-go phones at a handful of its stores.
The Carphone Warehouse has also demonstrated innovative thinking with its recent link-up with retailers Game and Jessops to open a tripled-branded store at Brent Cross retail park in North-West London. …