Three is set to launch a major upgrade of all of its 330 retail stores as part of wider plans to double its customer numbers to 10 million by 2015 and open another 70 stores by 2015.
The upgrade of Three’s retail estate across the UK follows a successful trial of three new contemporary shop formats at its flagship stores in Middlesbrough, Birmingham and the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent earlier this year.
All three stores saw footfall and sales increase significantly during the trial, Mobile understands.
The new store format will be an amalgamation of all the most successful elements of the three trial formats.
The decision on the final ‘new-look’ store format was made by Three’s retail management team following feedback from staff and customers from all three stores in the trial. Three declined to reveal the final design. However, based on the three trial stores the new look is expected to be much more contemporary with oak floors, oak and white furniture and fittings, and large bright displays on the walls.
The trial format at the Bluewater store had 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.
The move is seen as part of a strategy to strengthen Three’s retail arm and is a central plank in its aggressive drive to grow UK customer numbers. The operator’s cut-price iPhone deals, ‘all you can eat’ data tariffs and improved network coverage have all driven rapid growth over the past 18 months, with customer numbers rising 18% to 8.2 million in 2011.
Three is also in the process of reviewing its relationship with independent retailers. Two months ago it surprised the industry by ending its trading relationship with Phones 4u.
Retail analyst Sam Hart at Charles Stanley said Three’s retail strategy chimed with the growing resolve among operators to take control of the distribution of products rather than depending on third party channels such as Phones 4u and Carphone Warehouse.
Hart added that the current economic downturn could give Three’s strategy momentum. He said: ‘This is the right environment for taking on leases on high street premises on competitive terms. At the same time, many shop refitters are short of work at the moment, which should bring down refit costs.’
Editor: Carol Millett