Carphone Warehouse’s Vision of Mobile Retailing

Last week Paolo and I were given a guided tour of Carphone Warehouse’s latest concept store (below), located in the brand-new Westfield shopping centre near Shepherd’s Bush in London. At around 3,000 square feet, the store’s about three times bigger than a normal Carphone Warehouse shop. There are another three stores like it in Romford, Bristol and Portsmouth. All of them have a different format from usual that lets the company try to understand shoppers’ needs.

Picture of Carphone Warehouse shop at Westfield

When you walk into the store, the first thing you notice is the sheer number of laptops on display. There are at least 25 different models from all the leading manufacturers, including Apple. There’s also an area dedicated to games, which sells consoles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, as well as software. Carphone Warehouse says it’s identified games as an important market, especially family-orientated games consoles.

The store pays special attention to smartphones, providing a large range of live demonstration handsets, and there’s a total of 48 prepaid handsets on display. We were shown an interactive kiosk that helps people understand how they use their mobile phones and find out if there’s a better tariff that will cut their monthly bills.

Content vouchers in Carphone Warehouse store

The Westfield store also features a wide range of accessories, a section for its Geek Squad technical services, and an area dedicated to selling mobile content, which has racks of vouchers for the services on offer (shown on the right). Paolo liked the idea of giving customers a physical item when they bought intangible goods like games or navigation software. It allows them to walk out of the store with something, even if it’s only a piece of plastic.

I was impressed by the execution of the concept store. All the staff came across as confident and experts in a variety of products. I counted 10 staff on the shop floor — quite a lot for a Friday lunchtime.

I was also struck by the way Carphone Warehouse is using the store to educate people. There’s a section showcasing routers and media streaming solutions. Although most visitors might not understand these products, the company gives live demonstrations, telling people what the products can do in a simple and jargon-free way. I couldn’t help thinking that some of the products will appeal more to geeks and are unlikely to be impulse purchases. Carphone Warehouse is counting on winning customers round so when they’re ready to buy this kind of device, they’ll choose to return to the Westfield store.

It was made quite clear that everything could be bought outright or with a subscription that subsidised the price of the hardware. If you want to buy a flat-screen TV, you can sign up to a Virgin Media (and soon Sky) subscription. If you want to buy a laptop, you can take out a mobile broadband contract. If you want to buy a games console, you can sign up for a fixed broadband connection. It’s a good way for people to spread the cost of hardware and services.

Carphone Warehouse clearly thinks people will leave the store feeling good and come back again. Our guide told us that a survey of visitors revealed that more than half would recommend the shop to a friend, and that women were far more likely to buy something in the store. Overall, the company believes the concept has been successful and it plans to roll out more stores across the UK. I can’t wait to see how its rivals react.