Carphone Warehouse’s assault on the b2b market marks a major expansion on the part of the UK’s largest independent mobile phone retailer. The company has attempted to get into the b2b market before, but this looks like being its most serious attempt in years.
Speaking to Mobile ahead of the launch (20 July 2011), Carphone’s CCO Graham Stapleton says: ‘We see this as a very significant move for Carphone Warehouse. There are 10 million business mobile phone users in the market and a big proportion of them are not being served by Carphone at the moment.
‘When we did our customer market research it was obvious that there was a home for our brand in the business market. I think our service proposition will make the big difference for customers and we believe we can create value for them.’
Stapleton is cagey about revealing actual revenue targets, as there are network commercial sensitivities, but said that ‘we are looking to at least treble our b2b revenues by the end of this financial year (31 March 2012) - so it is a big plan for us’.
Carphone aims to mirror its consumer propositions in the business space by offering all the networks’ business tariffs. ‘That is one of our big advantages,’ he points out, ‘so a business customer can choose any of those. However, we are also creating some different propositions to those that are available in the business space at moment.
‘We have highlighted eight to 10 new propositions on the front page of the website, most of which are market leading – either no one has got them or they are significantly cheaper than what’s out there. So, we will offer what the networks do plus our own unique propositions,’ says Stapleton.
How Carphone aims to differentiate its b2b offering
There is no shortage of competition in the b2b space in the UK, but Stapleton is confident that Carphone will be able to differentiate itself in the marketplace and attract business customers.
‘First, there is our Network Price Promise, which means we will never be beaten on price,’ he says. ‘Customers know they can come to us, see all the network tariffs, plus our own ones, and have the confidence they are getting the best deal for them.
‘We also offer the widest range of networks, tariffs, phones and tablets with independent advice. A lot of businesses have no tablet offer (we have exclusivity on the BlackBerry PlayBook, for example) so we can offer the connected experience in one tariff.’
Stapleton highlights the company’s service ethos as another major differentiator. ‘We have 820 stores, so if you need to express replace your handset you have a choice of 820 places to go to. We also offer our ‘Walk Out Working’ free of charge at launch, either through a remote service or a service in store, to help businesses set up their devices.
‘In addition, we offer a 14 day coverage guarantee that enables customers to check the quality of their reception and, if necessary, change network. We think that is a massive plus for any small business,’ he says.
Carphone also has a UK call centre, which Stapleton points out is not something all its rivals have. ‘We will provide a comprehensive aftercare sales and in-contract life management service. For example, we will review bills proactively, rather than only after they have been issued.’
Working with the network operators
On the face of it Carphone would appear to be treading heavily on the toes of the network operators by moving into the b2b space, but Stapleton says this is not the case.
‘All of our network partners have been happy to collaborate with us on this,’ he says. ‘They can see why we can make a difference in the business space and they see it as a pretty positive move. They mainly operate with large companies, so they have less focus on smaller businesses because of the way they are set up and way they do their b2b business.
‘We think we can add value to their [the operators’] business by bringing in SMEs and SoHos. We provide a consolidation point for the networks that makes the smaller end of the business market easier for them,’ argues Stapleton.
He adds that Carphone undertook extensive market research before committing to the b2b initiative. It drew on the experience of its distribution company HSC for insight into the market and also commissioned external research. The researchers interviewed different sized businesses and Carphone worked with a couple of the networks to look at customer segmentation to identify the best business segments for it to target.
In terms of distribution, the company plans to use all channels, but it will concentrate initially on the web. ‘We will give customers the opportunity to shop for that need in any channel,’ says Stapleton.
‘However, the biggest initial change will be in the online space. We have created a newly re-skinned business section on our website. We will market the b2b offering in phases starting with the online channel first using pay per click marketing and digital online advertising and working with Google as a partner to drive traffic to the site, so that if a potential customer is searching for a phone deal on Google we’ll be right up there.’
A second marketing phase will see more emphasis given to high street stores. All Carphone staff will have training to deal with b2b customers and the company would be trialling new formats in store for business.
‘It is more likely to be a business feature within an existing store, rather than a brand new store just for business,’ says Stapleton. ‘We have 820 stores and some of those are very close to big industrial parks where our rivals do not have a presence, so we might provide a bigger business emphasis in those stores.’
He continues: ‘We have the opportunity to use other channels as well. We can use HSC as a referral point for larger businesses and we can also use our direct channels. I’m sure there will be learnings as we go, but we are well set up in all channels to handle the new business.’
Stapleton says he is confident that Carphone can make a real impact in the b2b market, as unlike a lot of entrants into the business market the company starts with a wide range of advantages already in place.
‘We are a very well known brand, we have massive scale, the widest range of propositions and we offer first class service. You could say we are the sleeping giant in this space, so we need to make most of these advantages. We should be able to make an impact quite quickly,’ he concludes.