Wireless Retailers As Learning Labs

While food retail is arguably the most prevalent form of retail globally (everybody eats), wireless retailers are shaping up as the most innovative.

There are some 4.1 billion mobile phones in the world today, and mobile phone penetration is estimated at 60% globally. So while not everyone "calls" - a lot of people do. As a result, wireless retailers are pretty much everywhere. Like grocery stores, they are ubiquitous.

In addition to being nearly everywhere, wireless retailers are also among the most facile of retailers. They must adapt to, adopt, and sell technology that is arguably changing on a regular basis as new technologies become commercialized. Be it provider platforms or devices, the wireless retailer's offerings are constantly changing.

Nimble marketing

This nimbleness extends beyond just technological change and is perhaps best evidenced by the wireless retailers' recent shift in focus from "monthly" to "pay-as-you-go."



Carphone Warehouse, for example, has done an excellent job making it easy for its shoppers to understand what's available for either monthly or pay-as-you-go payment.

Equally interesting is the emergence of "value range offerings." Wireless retailers as diverse as Cricket (U.S.) and E-Plus Base (Germany) are concentrating on delivering value for their customers, which includes a heavy focus on pay-as-you-go. Both Cricket ($1, $2, or $3 a day plans) and E-Plus Base (€1, €2, or €3 per month) have helped transform the pay-as-you-go market with their innovative, easy to understand plans.

New store formats

While new store development and construction has slowed for retailers, some new store formats are still appearing. France finally has a truly world class flagship from SFR, one of the largest mobile and music retailers in Europe, which early this summer opened its new store in Paris. "Le Studio SFR" was designed to revolve around music, digital innovation and convergence technology.

The two-story, 1,500 m2 store features a live concert studio that hosts events holding up to 200 people, as well as a café and an Internet lounge bar. It offers free wi-fi, as well as music downloads, and allows shoppers to literally bathe themselves in music in its "sonic shower." Customers can test-drive the latest convergence technology, and personalize their own portable devices (ringtones, music downloads, etc.) in the store.

Equally interesting is the visible move toward convergence (i.e., handset/device convergence ala the move towards consolidating devices or features into a single portable device). Convergence is about the coming together of computing, information technology, media content and communication networks that has arisen as the result of the evolution and popularization of the Internet. The rise of globalization has meant that while there are some notable exceptions (Japan), the same technology is pretty much available everywhere. Therefore, wireless retailers show some remarkable family resemblances across the globe.

Recent store audits revealed a great deal of convergence in the look and feel of retail formats. Cricket and E-Plus Base look remarkably similar both in terms of their "basic value" positions and green color schemes; Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy Mobile have been collaborating (BBM has imported some of Carphone Warehouse's merchandising of mobile, while Carphone Warehouse has imported BBM's Geek Squad idea) resulting in more than a passing resemblance.

The Mobile Store in India - which looks like a cross between Carphone Warehouse and T for Telecom (Netherlands) - currently has 400 stores, but is expected to grow to 4,000 stores over the next few years.

Wireless retailers are like the fruit flies of genetics or the petri dish of microbiology - they are nearly everywhere, evolve quickly and therefore allow marketers to study the changes in each generation in a relatively short period of time. Wireless retailers are facile and nimble, focused on both technology and consumer needs. They are a learning laboratory that all marketers can observe... and a learning opportunity that should be taken advantage of by all marketers.

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