Carphone Warehouse has begun the third phase in the roll out of its Wireless World stores. It is aiming for 44 outlets by March 2010, as the vision for connected devices and converged technology goes from concept stores to a critical stage in the business strategy.
The retailer currently has eight stores in the new format and will have 24
by October, if everything goes to plan.
Expansion is gathering pace rapidly, and the objective is to extend the format abroad, with two prototypes currently underway in Spain.
At the start of 2008, Carphone stepped up its move into wireless technology with the appointment of Andrew Brem as new business director.
Brem took up a crucial new role, as Carphone aimed to transfer the principles that made it so successful in mobile phones, into broadband, laptops and other wireless devices.
Oxford University and MBA graduate Brem now manages the customer experience of Carphone’s Wi-Fi vision, the in-store environment and new product development. He previously held retail management consultancy roles at McKinsey and more recently ASDA Wal-Mart, where he was instrumental in successfully launching the website, ASDA.com.
Carphone launched its Wireless World project in June 2008. A multimillion-pound advertising campaign hit print and broadcast media, explaining Carphone’s vision to revolutionise and simplify the laptop market in the same way the retailer shook up the mobile industry.
Laptops were distributed to Carphone stores across the UK throughout June last year, and electricians are now in some of the bigger stores installing central display units from which staff will sell broadband and laptops. Smaller stores are fitted with wall bays to sell a reduced range of laptops.
In November 2008, outlets internally named as Wireless World were launched, strongly featuring gaming devices, such as PlayStations and Nintendo Wiis, as well as gaming on mobile phones. They also included laptops, sat nav products, Slingbox (TV over internet), iPods and Wi-Fi routers.
The first store in the format was a huge 3,000 sq ft shop in the new Westfield shopping centre in west London, and if successful, the format
was to be extended to a further 50 Carphone stores.
In March, Carphone and US electronics retailer Best Buy delayed the launch of the first UK ‘Big Box’ store until 2010. The joint venture, which planned to open its first store in summer 2009, postponed the launch until Q1 2010, as it made more ‘commercial sense’, Carphone finance director and Best Buy Europe CEO Roger Taylor told the Financial Times at the time.
Taylor said tough economic conditions meant it was more ‘sensible’ to wait
for better sites, preferring to put efforts into Carphone’s larger Wireless World formats.
Last week, Carphone reiterated that claim, and announced all was on track to open the stores by the end of the first quarter next year.
In December 2008, Carphone started trialling Sky TV and broadband in four stores.
The first batch of Sky services was added to Carphone’s new Wireless World stores in White City, Romford, Bristol and Portsmouth, and it is now extended to all eight stores that use the format.
However, in February 2009, it emerged that Carphone had around 20 to 30 stores on a disposal list, but had ruled out looking to dump over 100 stores.
CEO Andrew Harrison said the company was not making wholesale disposals,
and was more interested in swapping small outlets for bigger ones, which it could revamp into its new Wireless World format.
New business director Brem tells Mobile at the retailer’s newly opened Richmond outlet that the new stores, which are intended to convey Carphone’s ‘connected’ idea, have smartened up with bold blue paint. The layout ensures laptops and netbooks are the first products a customer will see when they enter the store. Brem (pictured, above) says this is part of Carphone’s strategy to ‘enjoy content on any device, anywhere’.
The retailer’s offering is now split into three categories; connected device kit (the hardware), connections (broadband or mobile voice) and content. Brem says: ‘The joy in this stuff is using the applications on it.’ Carphone also has its ‘Geek Squad’ in store to ensure the kit and connections work.
Brem claims the new Richmond store is a ‘natural evolution’ from its Westfield store, as it is ‘merchandised more densely’. It has ‘helicopter units’, like the other stores, which separate out different sections such as music and gaming devices.
Staff at Carphone’s Wireless World stores are vigorously trained. One Richmond staffer tells of how he used to work in customer services before going to Kingston and then this store, which has been open for two weeks.
His colleagues had already visited a training centre in Acton, where expert consultants from Intel and Microsoft work with staff for three days on various modules to make them experts in the field.
Footfall in the Richmond store is ‘good’ according to staff, with one saying it was double the level at his previous store. Brem says overall, the shops are ‘performing to expectations’ and Portsmouth is the surprising highest performing store of those in the Wireless World format.
Brem adds ‘people are more important’ to the retailer now, which is why it changed its commission schemes and increased basic earnings. He adds that the emphasis on high-quality staff is attracting ‘different sorts of people’, for example, there are two women studying technology and working part-time in one of the shops.
Converged telecoms is a rapidly growing area for Carphone. Richmond’s connected technology area consists of a Slingbox and a Cisco ‘media hub’ – essentially a router that can be used anywhere – and Sky is also doing well.
Carphone’s gaming phones are placed with mobile gaming devices, as well as consoles such as the Xbox and PlayStation. Brem believes there is now ‘more flexibility’ in bundling, as consoles offer other services such as the internet.
At the end of the store is a mural that shows networks’ services such as Skype, and Geek Squad logos grouped together. Geek Squad, which is the only service of its kind from a high street retailer, and is now also Carphone’s insurance brand, is being sold alongside connections for £6.85 per month. It is becoming so popular that the service has been getting referrals from local operator retailers. Brem says: ‘Having a geek agent is fundamental.’
As for products, Brem says there will be more ‘connected technology’ emerging as time goes on, and ‘more and more laptops with integral mobile broadband’. And after his target of 44 stores for next March? Brem says the retailer will ‘keep going’, opening new Wireless World stores as it prepares for its Big Box market break next year.