Orange’s Future of Mobile Retail

New Paris Outlet Focuses on Engagement, Exploration and Fun


I was recently given a guided tour of Orange’s new concept store, which has opened in the fashionable Opera district of Paris.

Driving change in retail is an important element of Orange’s strategy and the operator has been rolling out smart stores in Europe and Africa for some time. The idea is to break away from traditional mobile phone retailing and offer a more engaging, immersive and fun experience. In Europe, Orange expects that one in five of its retail outlets will be smart stores by 2018.

But the Opera shop takes the concept to a whole new level. Spanning four floors and over 2,000 square metres, it’s one of the largest mobile stores in Europe. It employs 150 staff — including 23 coaches — and offers customers the opportunity to browse some 800 products and accessories.

My first impression was that the store was welcoming and spacious, in stark contrast to the often dingy ambience in many traditional mobile phone shops. I was particularly struck by the lack of advertising and promotions, which can sometimes feel obtrusive and confusing. Instead it was uncluttered, clean and well laid-out.

The ground floor is all about attracting people through the doors, and given the store’s location — next to Paris’s famous opera house — there should be plenty of visitors. I was quickly drawn to a stand showcasing fashionable new products such as drones and robots. I doubt Orange has expectations of significant sales in this category, but regular demonstrations are designed to engage visitors and stir interest, and could lead to purchases elsewhere.

A mini theatre showcases new technology, such virtual reality or the latest handsets, and an adjoining space is set aside for hands-on trial and exploration. A separate area is dedicated to selling customised phone covers, bringing an element of fun to the experience.

Orange reckons that about 40% of visitors to the store are tourists. To target this segment, it has created an area called “on the move”, which offers information for roamers on a touch-screen display and sells products like prepaid SIM cards, batteries and in-car accessories.

Roving sales assistants are armed with portable devices to offer individual product advice. The tablets can take payment and issue e-mail receipts, meaning that transactions do not need to be processed at a fixed location within the store.

The basement is all about customer care. This is an aspect often overlooked in traditional stores geared to selling, even though support and maintenance are leading reasons for customers to visit their provider in person. The activity also represents an important opportunity for operators to engage with subscribers, boost loyalty and sell them new services.

A “white room” acts as a laboratory for mobile phone repair, and spacious booths offer support for in-depth enquiries. A beauty bar for mobile phone “pampering” sells screen protectors and cleaners.

The first floor is all about experiences. A well-being area with exercise bike and sports-related products aims to encourage trial and discovery; a home section is dedicated to showcasing connected objects and TV and a third area zones in on music, gaming and photography. There’s even a dedicated booth for visitors to create an avatar for online games.

A small area has been set aside for group seminars. These are offered by Orange free of charge, with recent subjects including personal data protection, staying fit through technology, social media training and photography on mobile devices. I spotted a space reserved for the launch of Orange Bank, unveiled by the operator in April.

The top floor is a spacious area used for press conferences and partner events.

Overall, the store felt discreet and unobtrusive, and I really enjoyed looking around. Each area seemed to have a specific purpose. Although products were always in view, their placement appeared subtle and well thought-out. There was a calming atmosphere that contrasted with the often hectic and chaotic mood prevalent in many traditional stores.

Customer service is an area in which telecom companies have badly lagged in recent years. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, GSMA chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal claimed the industry’s reputation was only just above that of tobacco companies. Orange appears to be placing itself at the forefront of trying to put this right, and it for this it should be applauded. In an era in which artificial intelligence appears to be the next frontier for the industry, it is refreshing to see impressive progress also being made in traditional face-to-face customer engagement.