This article was originally published in European Communications.

By Tom Erskine, CMO and SVP Product, One Door.

I bought my first mobile phone in 1997 at my local telecom retail store. Although calls cost £0.27 per minute, and the device didn’t fit in my pocket, it was an exciting moment for a young executive.
 Twenty years later, US smartphone penetration is approaching 100 percent, and usage has doubled in the past three years.

The European market hit saturation more than a decade ago, and while new mobile customers still exist in Asia and South America, every region must eventually face the question: When everybody has a smartphone, what’s next?

The answer is retail. 
The future lies in new services, based on new devices.

To drive adoption of these services, telecoms providers must radically adapt their retail environments to create experiences – and not just maximise transactions. 
While phones have evolved beyond our wildest dreams, the telecoms retail store hasn’t.

Bland, sterile store environments, where products are accompanied by a small spec sheet and a price card, won’t work anymore. 
Experiential retail is quickly becoming critical for telcos with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), smart homes and virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR).

Telcos looking to grow will only drive adoption of these products if they evolve their bland stores into theatres of the future, where consumers can experience and get excited about new products.
 As a customer, I won’t use a new service if I don’t understand how it works, and how it can make my life better.

Creating immersive experiences is critical to driving consumer adoption and revenue growth, and also to building the trust and understanding that engenders customer loyalty and reduces churn. 
This transformation won’t be easy.

Since telcos have never thought of themselves as retailers, they’ve invested in their networks for digital services versus their supply chain for physical goods.

Now, they need to invest in their retail infrastructure to enable growth. 
These investments enable the following retail improvements:

  • A more localised retail experience: Given their large number of smaller locations, telecom providers have much to gain through highly granular localisation. No two telecom retail stores are the same, so they need to be treated accordingly. Remember your stores are likely vastly different shapes and sizes, and the neighbourhoods are vastly diverse in demographic, geographic and environmental characteristics.
  • Accelerated product and service launches: Customers will only enter a store when there is something new to see. Use technology to decrease your time-to-reset, and improve your merchandising execution – the placement of products in a store or network of stores – to showcase the latest and greatest devices.
  • Associates who interact with customers and sell: The human element is a critical part of an immersive telecom and media retail experience. Free up associates to maximise time with customers by automating labour intensive merchandising tasks. When an associate must follow up with HQ on a re-order, or log an issue via email about a broken fixture, it directly takes away from time spent on the floor driving understanding and sales.

Telecom retail is hard, but possible. The time to embrace retail is now.

Create immersive, in-store experiences that sell – or watch your margins disappear.