Three is trialling new contemporary shop formats as part of a wider strategy to drive up customer numbers following rapid growth last year.
Flagship stores in Middlesbrough, Birmingham and the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent have been chosen from its estate of over 330 stores to test drive the new look. Each store format is slightly different so the operator can gauge which works best.
The new design aims to encourage customers to try out the latest devices and make them feel more relaxed in store, as well as helping staff engage with them more easily and effectively.
The three stores have a lighter, more contemporary feel with oak floors, oak and white furniture and fittings, and a large photographic display of pictures taken by staff and customers on their smartphones.
The Bluewater store (pictured above) has three designated areas for customer support, setting up contracts and a ‘discovery’ area. Within the area are four interactive pods, with three displaying smartphones from Apple, HTC, RIM, Samsung, Nokia and Sony and a fourth dedicated to tablets. Screens on the pods allow customers to pull up information on smartphones and tablets and compare tariffs.
Three plans to review feedback from staff and customers before deciding which format works best. Speaking after its results last week, the operator said it was planning to take the best parts of its brick and mortar retail offer and apply it to other customer service channels.
For the 2011 calendar year, customer numbers increased by 18% to 8.2 million. Three CFO Richard Woodward told Mobile he was encouraged that the growth had not affected the operator’s bottom line. Three reported its first full year profit of £30m. Sales increased 14% to £1.79bn.
Woodward said the growth came from its ‘all-you-can-eat’ contract offer. He said: ‘We built plans to provide real value to customers and certainly with all-you-can-eat people aren’t scared about using data. We’ve seen an exponential growth in data usage.’
He added that its high profile iPhone 4S offer was also a key driver of sales: ‘The iPhone 4S is clearly a very important device for us. But increasingly we are seeing a number of Android smartphones that are also becoming more important for the industry. The iPhone was instrumental in kick-starting our growth in 2010. Having it, plus the network and our data packages, was a combination that worked for us.’
Woodward said Three was currently working on its customer service offer, which has been criticised in Ofcom consumer surveys. However, he said the 2011 results gave him reason to be optimistic for the year ahead.
He said: ‘There’s been a lot of hard work and [we are]bedding in a lot of things that we have done. We are working on some of the indicators like complaints and are looking at what we can do better. That’s what the focus is. It’s a bit like growing up. We feel we are turning 21, instead of turning 18.’