Physical retail is changing at telcos

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to digital and directly impacted the way in which people buy telecoms products. It created particular challenges for physical stores, which were already in transition as telcos moved to omni-channel distribution.

Operators responded by testing out new store locations and formats, and improving operational capabilities. They innovated in fulfilment, provided better inventory insight and trained staff. This is summarised below.

physical retail

Source: STL Partners

Does physical retail have a future?

Our research shows that physical stores are still serving a purpose:

  • European customers in certain demographic segments rely on stores acquaint themselves with new device formats, solutions for the home and wearables to support personal health.
  • In Africa and the Middle East, physical telco stores can also be a destination for paying utility bills (such as water, electricity) which telcos have sought to manage through self-care kiosks taking electronic and mobile payments.
  • At an in-market competition level, new players entering a market or territory need physical retail stores to help them to establish their presence.
  • The store itself is also useful as a billboard for brand marketing.

While times have changed, it is too soon to abandon the physical outlet.

For further insight and guidance on how telcos should evolve their retail footprint, please see our report The future of physical retail.