Telecom store design is an interesting topic that I’ve seen evolve over the years.
In the very early days of wireless, stores were selling so many units that the classical “pile it high” retail model was enough to keep the cash register ringing.
Once 3G arrived, telcos started to get more complex in their offerings, with texts, picture messages and all sorts of other “science fiction” possibilities. In response, store designs portrayed everything as “the future”, with sleek attributes resembling spaceships and featuring stark white surfaces.
Then, once convergence hit the market, and 4G started to hit devices, telco store design started to become very complex. This is when we started specifying different areas for customer service vs sales. Many telcos now began controlling their heavy service footfall with ticket machines, and waiting areas became common.
Now in 2023, in response to financial pressures and a diversification of their channel strategies, telcos are embracing a more organic, streamlined store vision that promotes comfort, efficiency, digital entanglement, and cost savings.
Here are 5 emerging global trends that will help telcos stand out with their store design.
One of the main objectives of a retail store is to attract customers. In the 3G and convergent eras, you would see all sorts of posters, figures, numbers, and statements plastered all over the windows to try and convince buyers that you had the “best deal”.
Today, customers are more discerning and are comfortable with the complexity of telecoms. What they really need is a reason to walk inside. This is where kerb appeal comes in.
The golden rule is that you must appeal to all customers, not just your own. A telco will often have 3-4 competitors - you want those customers in your store. So, smash up the kerb appeal and make your stores INVITING!
Open your windows and doors. Make it easy for customers to come in. Have high impact products and “the latest things” near the open entrances to give customers a reason to walk in and dwell. Make sure there are things to look at, to watch, and to play with right near the entrance.
You can see a great example of this at any Apple store. When you sell the coolest products on the planet, you don’t need to splash “special offers” in the window! Apple capitalises on this with large open entrances where you can see the products that are ready to be interacted with.
To complement the kerb appeal, you really need to consider the energy your stores are projecting to passers-by.
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes - what do they see from outside? If there are large desks, waiting areas as full as a doctor’s surgery, or queues of people clogging up the aisles, then some people will just sub-consciously say “too busy” and refuse to come inside (even if they want something).
The design of your transaction spaces is crucial, and there are several emerging trends here.
We are seeing smaller and smaller “sales pods” than in the past, which frees up precious floor space. Telcos are now using tablet-based commerce systems, which makes it possible to remove the full PCs and desks. As the telco world becomes paper free and fully digital, it’s now possible to remove those huge standalone printers as well.
With all that extra space, there is room for products to be showcased towards the front, while keeping smaller areas for discussions and order building towards the back. This leaves the front of the store more open and inviting. Bonus - by ditching all that hardware, there are also huge cost savings to be found!
In the UK, O2 has embraced this concept by placing very small desks around the side and back of their stores, so their products can shine at the front of the store. They also are using a variety of furniture types to suit different customer journeys.
Once upon a time, telco stores and displays used a cool sci-fi aesthetic to attract customers to these relatively new products. Now, the category is mature, and most customers are very familiar with what they are buying, and they know what they want.
That said, a lot of ageing populations in certain countries are still perplexed by the technology. A recent trend has been to ditch the futuristic look in favour of natural earth tones and wood finishes to soften the starkness of the technology and be a more welcoming and calmer environment.
Natural decorations, such as plants, hanging vines, and even flowers have become very commonplace, as have home décor items, like sofas, rugs, and lamps. Together, this design tells customers of all ages that they are part of an environment that is familiar, calm, and welcoming.
In New Zealand, Spark have embraced this trend by including plant walls and hanging vines from the ceiling to give the feeling that you’re entering a natural world of exploration.
In the 3G and pre-paid explosion ages, most telcos were very transactional. “Come in, find what you want, buy it, then please leave so I can serve my next customer”. Now though, telcos are encouraging dwell time so that existing customers and potential new ones can immerse themselves in the brand and educate themselves on the breadth of the offerings.
Have you heard of the “Third Place”? It’s that place between home and work where we also spend time. This strategy is something that companies like Starbucks have curated of over the past few years, particularly since the COVID pandemic where zoom calls and “work from anywhere” have become commonplace.
Telcos also have an opportunity to make their stores into a “Third Place” where customers can spend time. Providing interactive waiting areas of different sizes and types is a tactic that a lot of telcos are using right now. Some include sofas, some use high bar desks with power charging so customers can work for a while. It’s also common to have comfortable chairs with device charging stations where customers can hang out while they’re waiting – or watch the latest video about the telco’s new ipTV service.
Optus in Australia have a new concept store with sofas and other types of furniture designed for multiple uses. This includes small gathering tables in the middle of the store where customers can really immerse themselves in all the product categories.
Telcos often make the mistake of trying to make their stores look nice, but not necessarily feel nice. As a result, they neglect a few of the vital senses that make a store really great.
Sound is one of those. I often hear people say “oh, you can’t make the store too noisy”, which is true. But how you use the sound is so important.
Use smaller sound showers with directional speakers in product areas. In a different part of the store, sell portable Bluetooth speakers and a discounted Spotify subscription by hooking a device up and playing a curated playlist – all at a volume that doesn’t travel too far, but gives entertainment where it can be heard.
The same goes with “Home Zones” and TV areas – play real channels or curated videos with sound that can give visually-oriented people something to feast on. Their eyes will be drawn to moving images, yet most telcos put static images on a loop on a TV screen rather than proper shorts or vignettes. And they wonder why their customers get bored!
In the Caribbean, FLOW stores have an engaging series of customers journeys. These include a “Hello, What’s New” area, to a “We Are Curious” area that showcases fixed line and TV products. All zones use sound in different capacities to increase customer engagement.
Telco retail store design is a science, and one that is not well understood by many, including a lot of executives. They get fixated on visual design only and forget how to incorporate all the required customer journeys into one space.
A good “store design” is actually a modular design universe that can be applied across all 20 physical and digital channels to give you real brand cut through. This is where working with a telco specialist can pay dividends.
I can talk about the ins and outs of store design all day long. Have a question about your next design project? Send me a message, I’d love to hear about it!