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Mobile phone stores step into the future

Paul Withers
February 11, 2016

O2 unveils its “revolutionary” retail stores that are changing the face of the high street

O2 believes its new “revolutionary” retail stores will serve as a benchmark for its network rivals and the high street as a whole for years to come.

The mobile operator has started a six month trial on two brand new concept outlets in Market Street in Manchester and London’s Westfield White City shopping centre, with a view to a wider roll out in the future depending on success.

According to O2 general manager of stores Bridget Lea, speaking exclusively to Mobile News, the two new stores – around three times the size of its average unit – allow for a greater customer experience for all their mobile and digital needs.

“There is a digital revolution going on at the moment,” said Lea who is heading up the project. “From a mobile phone perspective, we’re now leading that revolution from the high street within our sector. These stores will shape the future of retail.”

O2 01

A new hope

As part of the trial, O2 has introduced a number of new propositions designed to help, but also educate, customers in an environment unlike a normal sales environment. This includes the introduction of “Inspire Zones”, located just inside the front entrance.

According to Lea this will provide customers with the chance to get their hands on the very latest technology across smartphones, tablets, wearables and virtual reality apps and products.

Each zone will run with an alternating theme, which is currently around the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. Here, visitors are able to come in and dress up as their favourite Star Wars characters, as well as play and control a number of Bluetooth and app controlled related products such as the BB-8 droid.

O2 Gurus (specialist staff) are on hand to advise visitors on how to make the most of their devices, from offering tutorials on the latest technological advancements, such as the abilities to connect multiple devices, how to use technology to improve health and fitness (apps, wearables) and helping parents understand how they can keep their children safe online.

Lounge areas have also been introduced towards the back of the stores, featuring brightly coloured sofas, wireless mobile charging stations and the chance to relax with a hot or cold drink.

“We’re leading the way and setting the bar high for the rest of the high street to follow,” said Lea. “Mobile phone stores are quite functional and transactional and are probably not the most inspiring places, despite the products on sale. We saw an opportunity to lead this revolution on the high street and come up with a new type of store.

“We wanted to move away from this transactional way of working to a more inspirational way of working. We have created spaces where people feel welcomed to the point they want to spend time in these environments rather than visiting because they have to buy a new phone.”

Lounge area in new concept store

Lounge area in new concept store

Ask the experts

Customer service has taken prime focus with these stores. All 54 new employees are tasked with prioritising this and will be rewarded solely on the service they provide as opposed to the sales they generate, which is the normal practice in retail.

Staff are assessed through random mystery shopper visits from O2 and questionnaires sent out to customers via text message for them to be rated, with scores measured across a combination of the two. Bonuses are based on staff achieving an “exceptional” customer satisfaction score across a quarter.

In fact, just half of the new roles created have been filled by O2 employees transferring from other stores within its 450 retail estate, with the other 27 filled by people that might know very little about the industry, never mind O2 itself.

These, for example, include DJs, fitness fanatics, photographers and animators – some even semi-professional – that have skills and specialist knowledge of their own that can be added to the customer service they are already providing.

For example, if a customer has questions about the camera on their smartphone and how they can improve its use, they can talk to a trained photographer on how to make the most of it and any apps they can download to change or improve photos.


Be inspired

These additions seem to have had the desired effect, with customer service index (CSI) scores currently tracking at 99 per cent at the Manchester store, something Lea labels as “very impressive and has far exceeded our expectations”.

“What was vitally important was not to intimidate our customers, but these stores are aimed at being very welcoming – O2 customer or not – so that it is a contemporary, warm and welcoming environment,” she said.

“From a people perspective, we have also tried to do something different. We wanted to cast the net out far and wide to people both within the mobile sector and not at all – those that have real talents of their own.

“We have tried to layer the additional digital skills and training on top of that so that they can have in-depth and really authentic conversations with customers.

“These are more than just a place where you buy a phone or resolve a problem – more a place where we want to be inspired by what the digital world can offer. Our employees definitely do that.”


Test and learn

For the next six months, O2 won’t be opening brand new shops with the much larger concept layout or closing any of its current estate in order to grow this area of the business across the UK.

It will instead concentrate on the Manchester and London stores for now, focusing on continuing to execute its “exceptional” customer service offering then analysing how they may be improved.

“The plan is to test and learn with these stores. It’s about executing what we envisage very well in store, receiving all the customer feedback and then deciding which of the different aspects we can do more with and which aspects we might want to change.

“We’re being very brave in what we’re doing. It’s becoming clear that we have created something that our customers will love.”

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