I can sympathise with the sales people whose job it is to explain the mobile internet and other new multimedia services to customers. The mobile internet is either unknown or viewed with suspicion by many. It’s the internet on your phone, although not all the sites; or you can access the ‘real internet’, but because it’s originally designed for PC screens, viewing it on a mobile involves a lot of scrolling.
It’s the same with downloading music. Try explaining the shake control feature on the Sony Ericsson W910i’s music player in words.
The ability to demonstrate these services would certainly make the job a lot easier for retailers, but surprisingly few stores have facilities for customers to try out different services and devices.
Costs to install live handsets in multiple stores, and the high level of theft – or ‘shrinkage’ as it’s known in retail – has restricted the spread of live handsets in mobile retail. I walked the length of Oxford Street on a mission to investigate retailers’ demo facilities.
The T-Mobile store in Oxford Circus was definitely the best equipped. As soon as I entered the store I was met with a big white table glowing with pink light, which invited me to interact with its six computer screens. The screens explained everything about entertainment services, tariffs, handset specs and even network coverage.
The demo station was surrounded by live handsets that customers can use to check out the services available. There were a variety of devices available, including the usual Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets.
The two 3 stores I visited both had the same demo facilities – two screens advertising mobile music, mobile TV and mobile internet (‘just to look pretty,’ as the salesman said), with a few Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets underneath for testing the services. Although the screens didn’t offer much useful information, the salesman was very helpful in answering my questions.
There were no demo handsets on display at Phones 4u, but the eager-as-ever salespeople jumped at the opportunity to ask me endless questions about my existing tariff, handset, network, mobile usage, as well as what I want from a contract. Only after that did they open the stockroom door and let me anywhere near a phone. After fiddling with the Armani phone for a couple of minutes, I mumbled something about my lunch-break ending and made a quick getaway.
The two Orange shops I visited had nothing on display; there was no opportunity to try out any of its services on a demo handset. I didn’t ask to try one out for fear of being forced to answer another long, drawn-out questionnaire before I even got a phone in my hand.
The Carphone Warehouse flagship store I visited had large Nokia demo stands on display to tempt browsing customers. There were four NSeries handsets each at their own station, which was equipped with a TV screen. You could then choose to view information on music, TV, navigation, internet as well as other services.
I expected something similar to the T-Mobile experience, where the screen would tell me everything I could possibly want to know about multimedia services on mobiles. Disappointingly, pressing the TV button just showed a short promotional clip of beautiful people watching mobile TV on a Nokia handset, which was not very helpful.
So I turned to a handset attached to the station. This was yet another disappointment as it didn’t work. The salesman also seemed baffled; however, he did explain that even if it did work, it wouldn’t have helped much as it wasn’t connected to a network, so would only show me preinstalled promo clips about Nokia’s services. The salesman told me: ‘We used to have live handsets, but we were losing money from Sim cards and handsets being stolen.’ However, he did demonstrate some services using his own handset.
I figured O2 would be a safe bet, as it would at least have a demo iPhone to play with. Surprisingly, its flagship store didn’t have one live phone on display.
However, there was a small live demo screen at the back of the shop. I pressed the button and got a short clip of a man standing in a noisy park trying to have a conversation on his wireless headset but not being able to hear anything. The solution was a background noise-blocking Jawbone Bluetooth device. A Bluetooth device but no iPhone? The tiny sales figures of the most hyped mobile phone no longer surprised me.
I found another O2 shop nearby and, luckily, it had three live iPhones on display. There was even a member of staff fixing one of the demo stations. ‘Try YouTube on that. It’s amazing,’ he told me.
Vodafone’s shops had the usual Nokia NSeries and Sony Ericsson Walkman handsets available to be tested. One store demonstrated the operator’s commitment to business customers with live BlackBerrys on display at the back of the shop.
In addition to the usual Nokia and Sony Ericsson handsets on display, the store had live Samsung and Motorola devices. It was refreshing to see these two handset manufacturers making an effort..
Operators’ lack of commitment to showing off their services on the high street is astonishing. With all the talk about operators’ falling voice revenues, and the only ARPU-saviour being mobile data services, they should be putting much more effort into getting customers understanding and using multimedia functionalities. Some operators were better than others, but there is much room for improvement in terms of demonstrating these services on the high street, where it matters.
To compensate for the lack of service demonstrations at their retail stores, some operators are putting up short demo clips online. Vodafone, for example, has a section on its website where customers can view a demo clip of what the mobile internet looks like. But that won’t reach the same number of potential data users as a demo in the shop would.
Great cameras, advanced music players, GPS navigation and mobile internet are also what manufacturers are using to differentiate their devices. They want to show these features off to potential customers, but seem to be struggling in convincing retailers to grant them this opportunity.
Big players like Nokia say they are prepared to pay retailers significant amounts of money for the privilege of having live demo handsets in stores, but retailers are being greedy about how much space on the shop floor it’s worth.
Nokia’s frustration with the lack of co-operation from retailers to have live demos in shops has probably contributed to the handset giant opening a flagship store in Regent Street. The aim of the venture is not necessarily to make a profit, but rather to act as a marketing exercise and demonstrate the advances in mobile technology.
The two manufacturers most committed to a strategy of entering into the mobile content business, Nokia and Sony Ericsson, have clearly invested in having live demos on the high street. Live NSeries handsets were on show in all the Oxford Street shops that had live demos (apart from the O2 shop with iPhones), and N95s were omnipresent. In addition, Nokia has invested heavily in having screens in shops to promote its multimedia services. Sony Ericsson’s Walkmans were also a common feature on retailers’ demo stations.