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One-Stop Shop: Operators roll out retail outlets to create brand visibility

September 30, 2011
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Operators are looking at innovative ways to attract customers instead of merely using advertising and promotion tools. One such innovative method has been to establish retail networks and one-stop shops to meet users’ telecom needs. Service providers are pulling out all the stops to be physically as accessible to the customer as possible, apart from setting up call centres and drop-box facilities. The outlets are aimed at increasing visibility and customer touch points, and offering real experience. Service providers also see this as an opportunity to provide improved services to both potential and existing customers.

Though every large operator claims to have several thousand exclusive outlets across the country, the emphasis is steadily shifting from mere sales and billing to exclusive cover services and retention activities. The stores are aimed to achieve higher visibility and brand recognition that is important in today’s scenario where competition is stiff and cut-throat.

For example, Bharti airtel’s pan-Indian sales and distribution network comprises over 1.6 million retail outlets. The company offers its subscribers a whole host of services at these outlets, ranging from bill payment to corporate solutions. The stores also offer a gamut of value-added services.

The launch of 3G services has widened the operators’ canvas further. Many of them have set up 3G experience zones at their outlets, so that customers can experience their 3G services first-hand, through live demonstrations.

Tata Teleservices Limited claims to have the largest retail presence among all operators in the telecom space. It has over 4,000 company-owned and company-operated outlets across the country. Other than this, the company works closely with leading distributors and sub-distributors.

Vodafone Essar, too, has a national presence of exclusive retail outlets. According to Tamal Saha, director, customer and channel management, Vodafone Essar, “We have different formats of stores for the urban, semi-urban and rural markets, namely, Vodafone Stores and Vodafone Mini-Stores. The evolution of Vodafone retail is based on the service ethos of “Happy to Help”, thus providing an access point for consumers to resolve their queries and access our product and service offers.”

Clearly, retail outlets have become a key part of telecom operators’ new strategy to increase visibility and attract subscribers. In light of this, operators need to have a robust, high-bandwidth communications backbone to connect their retail chain.

To achieve this, operators have opted for a multi-tiered telecom infrastructure. For example, Loop Mobile has deployed a multi-protocol label switching-based network for inter-store connectivity. The company also uses a secure broadband, virtual private network to ensure redundancy. Moreover, each terminal in a gallery is connected to a local area network.

Operators like Vodafone Essar have opted for a simpler telecom set-up. The Vodafone Stores and Mini Stores are seamlessly connected via leased lines to the zones, circles and corporate centre.

Various software and IT platforms have been deployed as well. Loop Mobile uses an in-house customised customer relationship management (CRM) software, while telecom operator Vodafone Essar uses sales solutions, e-top-ups and CRM systems at its stores. Says Saha, “We also have traffic management systems to monitor footfalls in the stores. For the Mini Stores, which are geographically spread out and largely in the hinterland, we leverage cost-effective tools like SMS CRM to serve our customers.”

For last mile connectivity, optic fibre is the most widely used medium, followed by digital subscriber line (DSL), wireless connectivity and Metro Ethernet. Operators are utilising wireless connectivity in the form of radio frequency (RF) or wireless mediums in conjunction with either DSL or optic fibre or both. Besides RF, Wi-Fi and Wi-Max are also being used. Operators using only wireless technologies stated that these are more cost-effective vis-à-vis options like optic fibre.

As the sector is adding over 15 million users every month, the operators’ emphasis will be on attracting subscribers by creating brand visibility and ensuring easy access to their products and services through retail outlets.

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