This talk is a must-read for every telecom retailer. We talked to Liza Amlani, Retail Expert and Industry Lead at Retail Strategy Group, about the challenges telecom retail stores face today and what actions to take to overcome them in the years to come.
We touched on the topics of the omnichannel journey, inventory visibility, personalization, customer-centric processes, digitalization in-store, and more.
Liza provided some truly insightful and actionable points for telecom retailers to consider, whilst putting the customer experience at the very center of every operation.
COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of digital and transformed retail forever. The role of brick and mortar is changing even more rapidly than anticipated. How would you describe telecom retail stores in the current climate?
I’d say that telecom stores are still super relevant. Footfall has been increasing, but the main difference lies in high customer expectations. They expect a better, more memorable experience and a seamless integration across digital and physical. A good example of such integration the customer expects is real-time inventory visibility. Customers want to ensure that once they decide to come to the store, the product they wanted will be available at the location, especially because they’ve been shopping online for the last 15-16 months or longer.
Real-time inventory visibility is usually available for online purchases, right?
Yes. The challenge lack of real-time customer inventory visibility in brick and mortar brings is that customers might not get what they expected and leave the store disappointed. On top of that, customers coming in-store often see pricing and promotions that don’t align with the information they saw online. And this is why a lot of retailers are looking at new solutions and how to manage their omnichannel journey and serve their customers better.
Can you elaborate on how you see the omnichannel journey in telecom retail?
What we’re seeing is that customers are pre-shopping digitally, they’re doing comparison shopping before entering a physical store to transact. For telecom retail, online comparison shopping is especially true because the telecom customer is extremely price-sensitive and price-conscious. So, the customer journey often does start online, and then it moves to offline. The important thing is that it’s one journey.
Can it be that customers transact in-store because they also want to see and touch the products?
In some cases, no. Because you’ll always find that if you’re an Apple customer, you’re an Apple customer for life, right? So you trust Apple to give you the best product because you already have engagement with that brand and you’re loyal to that brand. It’s not necessarily about the hardware as the customer has already chosen their hardware but around the offering and the variables that are important to them, whether it’s data across Europe or international calling. I think that those intangibles are much more important to the telecom customer than the hardware to which the customer tends to be loyal.
Okay, but when you said that many customers check the provider online, and then go to the store and transact there, what might be the reason for that? Handle on the price or?
There’s a lot of confusion around telecom offerings. But I would say that most customers are simply pre-shopping online, whether they’re buying telco or whether they’re buying fashion footwear or other hard goods. It’s a part of the new customer journey.
In our latest content on the future of telecom retail stores, we’ve been referring to personalization as one of the most important actions a telecom retailer can take to stay relevant. Not only in terms of personalized products and services but also in different concept stores suited for different customer needs.
I think that personalization is one of the key differentiators across brands. It gives the customer just a little more. It accentuates the relationship with the brand, and that is directly tied to customer loyalty. This will be even more important in the future when Generation Z, Alpha, and the other upcoming generations that want everything personalized and specifically tailored to their needs take over. Another big thing for customers is experience or experiential retail. If a retailer creates memorable experiences and makes them personalized on top, he wins.
With the rise of digitalization in-store, such as mobile-based self-checkout, online order pickups, or online appointment scheduling, which all lead to customer identification in-store, personalized experiences have the potential to improve as well.
You can look at it in two different ways – under that digitalization umbrella or as the shopping experience. Digitalization may deal with how to change the format of your store to better suit the needs of the local customer. Shopping experience infuses these personalized experiences and digital. Let’s say, if a brand can customize phone cases or some part of the hardware, then that will become a part of the experience, infusing personalization and digitization throughout that customer journey.
It can be hard to draw a dividing line between all the important processes.
Yes, they’re very intertwined. The most important thing to remember is that from a customer journey point of view, whatever decision the retailer makes in terms of innovation should be customer-centric. So the retailer should view it as the overall customer journey from digital to in-store, and digitalization of certain parts of the store is also a part of that journey. And as for personalization, the more a telecom retailer personalizes their offerings, the better.
How do in-store sales consultants fit into the whole revolutionizing of telecom retail?
The sales consultants, especially in telecom retail, need to become true brand ambassadors, and they need to be product experts. The extent to which the retailer can create an environment encouraging enough for employees to grow together with the brand is going to be another key differentiator for a customer going to one store versus another.
This is very true because when you think about it, the customer may often come to the store and know more about the products other telecom retailers offer than the actual sales consultants. All because everything is available on the internet and they did their research.
Exactly. And if most, the majority of people are pre-shopping online and so they are very well versed in product and pricing. So the in-store consultants need to be even better and have a certain level of customer service that will differentiate them against their competitors. The sales consultants who know what the competitors are doing, definitely get the sale a lot more than if they don’t, because then it’s just sending them away.
We’re coming to the end of our talk. Any last key takeaway you’d like to close it with?
The key to all business processes and operations is really putting that customer in the center of retailing, understanding that the customer journey starts online and ends offline. The important thing to note is that it is just one journey and it should be as seamless as possible because the customer shops the brand and not the channel.