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  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

The retail environment as a point of service discovery

Poor discovery and accessibility are two major obstables hindering the growth of data services. In simple English, the user often does not know that a service exists (it’s poorly communicated) or how to access it (it’s hidden under layers of menus). In the past vendors have suggested software methods for improving discoverability and accessibility: personalised WAP portals (see ChangingWorlds), on-device portals (see SurfKitchen, uiOne), on-SIM portals (see Celltick) and WAP toolbars (see Alatto), with results which are encouraging but not ground breaking.

A new paradigm for service discovery An idea struck me while I was recently explaining the world of the mobile industry to a fellow passenger on the plane. Why not exploit the communication power of consumer brands and place them within the retail environment for service promotion ?

Here’s the scenario. Imagine walking into a mobile operator retail store in London in 2007. You spend ten minutes choosing your new phone and another five minutes choosing the right tariff. Following that the shop assistant shows you to a set of shelves stacked with branded, colourful boxes that easily fit in the palm of your hand. It looks like a console games shop, only now the shelves are stacked with small shiny boxes, each carrying a high street brand like Disney, Robbie Williams, Nike, Kodak, BBC News, AtoZ, the AA, the Discovery Channel, and SKY Sports.

Each box represents an information or entertainment service that you can get on your mobile phone. You ‘re already familiar with the 10s of brands already on the shelves, so you can pretty easily make out the stuff that of most interest. You pick the motorist news alert service from the AA and the London’s map & planner service from AtoZ. You pretty much know that the AA service is probably about traffic information, and you check the small print to find out that the service is about daily traffic alerts. Both services cost 2 pounds a month.

You take the two boxes to the shop assistant who scans the barcode on each box. She tells you that you ‘ll be able to access the services by pressing the MyStuff hard key on the phone, and then you ‘ll see the icons of the services on your screen (Technical note: the hard key is a shortcut to the WAP portal and specifically to the user’s own page. For smartphones a more elegant, and visually appealing alternative is to use an on-device portal local software application).

Behind the scenes: the point of discovery This scenario presents a new paradigm for service discovery and accessibility. The use of consumer brands as a tangible, visual communication medium for the service proposition exploits the brand recognition that these content providers enjoy. The operator exploits this brand recognition in the retail environment to effectively communicate the value proposition of the service and allow the user to quickly browse and select from 10s of content providers. The branded box contains service details, pricing, as well as terms and conditions. At the same time, the retail POS acts as an advertising medium: the operator can command a commission for the sale of a service and at the same time play the content provider/advertisers against each other for availability and pricing of shelf space. Naturally, independent retailers (see CarPhone Warehouse) can also implement this concept, aided by independent off-portal providers like Bango and RefreshMobile (minus the hard key shortcut).

The setup of a point of service discovery is straightforward for today’s mobile operators with 100s of retail points of sale. What an operator needs is a framework agreement with existing content providers, a logistics operation for the promotional boxes, some shelf space, training for the shop assistants, a MyStuff page on the portal and a straightforward mechanism for provisioning the portal that is accessible from the point of sale.

An important yet subtle element in this concept is the hard key: I fundamentally believe that operators should send hard key presses not to the portal front page but the user’s own page. Personalisation should take priority over Customisation.

Reality check The beauty of this concept is that it’s easy to implement, and it can be easily demonstrated (ok, instinctive proof will have to do for now) to accelerate service adoption and hence data ARPU. The drawbacks of the approach I would consider to be minor: there is a cost to the shelf space occupied by the branded box shelves (and probably reduction of shelf space for selling phones). Then there is the concern of increased ‘product noise’ and ‘brand noise’ in the retail environment which may complicate the sale.

Overall though, I do believe it is a promising solution to boost service accessibility and discoverability that with an optimised retail planning can do wonders to the traditional mechanisms of service promotion.

Any operator listening ?

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