How are consumers shopping for smartphones? Current telco retail trends indicate most of them are doing it from home. [AS Photo Project / Adobestock]
Gone are the days of consumers who prefer to visit retail locations to research, upgrade, or purchase their smartphones. Research indicates that just 25% of consumers go to a CSP's physical storefront for product research. And a mere 31% of shoppers make an in-person purchase. Telco retail trends data shows that digital channels are skyrocketing as subscribers bring their entire customer journey online.
It's clear customers seek alternative ways to interact with wireless carriers, including web, phone, app, and social media. But how well do carriers deliver? Below are three ideas for CSPs to reimagine the retail experience - and to ensure they can continue to meet customers' changing expectations.
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Telco retail trends evolve quickly
For decades, the brick-and-mortar telecom store played a major role in telco retail operations. More than mere sales outlets, these stores functioned as customer support hubs, offering shoppers technical help and advice on products and billing plans.
Now there's much less foot traffic to stores. And there's less opportunity for customer connection. During the pandemic, many wireless carriers, including T-Mobile, moved swiftly to help employees, customers, and communities. But that also meant closing many stores temporarily or permanently.
These closures affected how people purchased. According to a 2021 international study, only 39% of consumers prefer to make a purchase in-store. Customers use more self-service options while reducing physical interactions, including buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS), contactless delivery, and curbside pickup.
As a result, many telco providers now designate more stores purely for pickup purposes and inventory overflow ("dark stores"), and stock these shops with the most popular products in a specific geography.
As carrier stores continue to reopen across the country, retail outlets must consider customers' desires to minimize their time in-store. Shoppers want to see products in person before committing to a purchase. But CSPs need to be mindful that many consumers want to start the shopping journey online, then make the final purchase in-store - or vice versa.
How to deliver a seamless telco retail experience
Winning in this telco retail environment means CSPs must evolve the customer experience so shoppers can move seamlessly between digital and physical channels. Here are three suggestions:
1. Turn the dial up on digital
With fewer in-store interactions, CSPs need to ensure they can deliver superior customer service across the digital channels customers prefer. Consumers use an average of nine channels to browse inventory, seek advice, and make purchases (just 47% prefer to make a purchase on CSP websites). They expect consistency across all the channels they use. That requires CSPs to improve shopping by streamlining the journey.
2. Offer in-store appointment booking
Provide features that keep products in the shopping cart if they leave the site before purchasing.
Use existing customer data to provide personalized offers based on purchase and browsing histories and preferences.
Address common concerns with a regularly updated FAQ page.
Embed a web chatbot for further on-demand support.
When customers visit an actual store, it's for a specific purpose - say, to replace a cracked phone screen - and they want to get in and out without delay. Make it easy for them with an efficient online appointment booking system to minimize their time in-store or waiting in line.
3. Educate and empower retail store associates
Equip store associates with the right tools to follow a customer from discovery to purchase. Cutting-edge order management and inventory systems give associates a real-time look at store inventory and makes it easy to move products between stores. Associates can also get instant visibility into customer preferences, devices, usage, and interaction history to personalize recommendations. Help your team to suggest add-on purchases like phone accessories that a customer in a physical store would see at checkout.
Telcos, like all retailers, are experiencing rapid shifts in consumer buying habits and preferences - and these changes are here to stay. To stay relevant and competitive, CSPs need to focus on customers and become digital-first.
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