EE has developed a new flagship store format which puts service centre stage, while also promoting the high tech potential of connected products. We are impressed.

Range of outlets

EE has recently done a deal with Sainsbury’s to install EE concessions in 100 Sainsbury’s stores. These small, cut down units will be at the basic end of the range. There will be the usual high street stores, with more space, more service and a wider range of products.

Following the Talk Talk – Orange merger the new combined estate was slimmed down, cutting back on duplicated outlets. But the business is now ready to move forward again and aims to ensure that 95% of the population is within 20 minutes drive of an EE store.

The new format is for flagship stores and it would be reasonable to expect some of the ideas to trickle down to smaller stores, especially when it comes to improved service.

Showcase stores

The new experimental store format is for flagship stores. They are split into 5 broad areas. Just inside the door there will be a Showcase stage. At present this is a demonstration space for Apple Music which EE is promoting at the moment. There’s a Help Hub, demonstration areas for other products, such as Google Home or Apple watch, sales and product display areas.

Innovations – The stores

The more segmented layout, with areas clearly dedicated to particular aspects should help clarity.

The Help Hub has a large table, even with charging points for customers to use. There’s a long table and all staff have a tablet as a matter of course, to be able to deal with transactions quickly.

[graphic: image 1]

There are desks at the back of the store and even more secluded areas for greater privacy.

[graphic: image 2]

Innovations – Display

The major innovation here is that phones are displayed with live screens. The old form of using a static screen shot on a plastic cover is gone. Customers can see what the phone actually looks like.

A wider range of products is now essential in mobile phone shops. Tablets are standard, but the showcase stores have wearable devices as well.

[graphic: image 3]

What may not be immediately obvious from a photograph is that the pictures are on TV screens and the “live” screens gives a much greater sense of immediacy.

For comparison, older stores still make use of pictures on card.

[graphic: image 4]

Innovations – Service

Service has been pulled right into the centre of the store. The Help Hub, with its long central table, is shown above and if staff can’t help with a query (at present about accounts rather than technical matters), then there’s the facility to have a live video chat with someone at a central help centre.

The major innovation is EE’s “mend and lend” offer. If a smartphone is in for repair, then EE will lend a comparable phone, not just a cheap stop-gap, while the customers phone is out of action.

What should a mobile phone shop really be doing?

The major growth phase in mobile phones is now over. There is some churn between networks, but it is not that great. The challenge for the network operators is to maintain customer loyalty to the network and perhaps pull a few new customers in.

So service has moved to the centre of the retail proposition. The emphasis in this store is on helping people – making the store a friendly, welcoming place that customers will trust. Trust builds loyalty (and a much more durable loyalty than gimmicks such as loyalty cards).

But is that enough?

So we think that this new EE store is an important step forward. It’s impressive in that it combines an emphasis on service with display of new technology in a way that is approachable, rather than intimidating.

So by way of comparison we went to look at a Currys PC World stores a couple of hundred metres away. The mobile phone area (Carphone Warehouse) is smaller and focussed just on phones. But it is placed within a larger stores (much larger than the EE outlet) with a wide range of high tech products. There are, for example, many times more wearable devices on offer than at EE. Currys has the space to offer a comprehensive range. The logic behind the Dixons – Carphone merger was that connectivity will drive innovation and demand. One should not look at mobiles, or technical products in isolation. The Currys PC World store (a high street one) embodies that vision.

Where next?

It would be silly to suggest that there is only one sort of store that will work in future. The range in Currys is impressive, but it could perhaps have integrated the mobile phone offer better into the rest of the store. It still looks like a concession and something that is separate. But for all the range and authority, Currys is not as welcoming as the new EE outlet. There is a big “Know How” counter at the back of the store, but it does not have the personal feel that EE has achieved.

Currys PC World is a commercial operation in its own right. EE is part of the greater BT group. EE is adamant that its stores stand up as commercial ventures in their own right, without cross subsidies, but they fulfil an important marketing role for the network as well.

Those with long memories will remember the tied retail outlets of the regional electricity companies. They were never profitable and with the deregulation of the industry those small high street stores were closed down. They had justified their existence because they were a centre for bill payments. Is there a parallel with the retail outlets of the mobile network companies? We cannot know. None of the networks publish any data about their stores.

Whatever the truth of that, a network store is part of the marketing effort of the network. It must promote the network and encourage customers to stay as well as attracting new customers in. We think that EE’s new outlet does that well.

Back to top