In 2017, the smartphone market has drastically changed and matured in a very short span. We see those changes every day here in Trinidad & Tobago and the shortcomings of Digicel & B Mobile are becoming very clear. Over the last few weeks, you will have noticed a large amount of Digicel stores closing down due to their completion of their contracts and are now morphing into Grey Stores. What that means is that they will be their own private store with the ability to sell some of their mobile services.
**Update** B-Mobile is now closing all of their retail locations, and their retail partners will now handle all retail operations.
So with the two service providers preaching big things, Digicel with their 2030 plan and with the launch of B Mobiles first 4G LTE network, how have these telecommunications companies got mobile sales all wrong? Well, we break down the 5 ways these companies are failing the public.
1) Lack of Device Subsidy
A quick visit to either company’s website will reveal a glaring problem. The cheap phones are very crappy and the good phones are far too expensive. It begs the question if there has ever been a thought into a proper structure for subsidising the cost of smartphones.
The rest of the world has this in the form of either a contract or a tab. Both options enable consumers to pick up the latest handset at an affordable cost. This is reserved for postpaid clients only while customers wanting prepaid must pay the full cost of the hardware.
It is stunning to see the costs of the latest flagships here in T&T, take the new Samsung S8 which most stores have retailing for an Avg of $6500 ttd. In this current economy, it is very hard for most people to spend that kind of cash on a phone, regardless of how great it may be. For an example of this, let us take a look at Digicel’s website and say we wanted to purchase the Samsung Galaxy S7.
If we took a postpaid plan at the time of purchase the device would cost us $6549, Prepaid $6949, and device only would run us $7099. Now, that is amazing considering this device is over a year old and you could pick up the Samsung S8 for the same price or cheaper.
Mobile data, faster internet speeds, smartphones are the current and future wave. Too many industries rely on those 3 things. Social Media, advertising, online streaming, video calling for personal & business, think about all the reasons we need capable handsets. They need to figure out how to subsidise phones and quickly.
2) Monthly Plans Need More Appeal
Now I am sure you would have noticed the surge in our telecommunications companies advertising postpaid plans. Some of them are actually pretty good when they are properly explained and broken down to you. Coming from Canada, I know all too well about postpaid plans. This is where companies make their money, especially from data services.
It is well known in the industry that service providers lose money on the actual devices, hence why they offer contracts or tabs in order to guarantee them a return for subsidising hardware. Think of the exchange, a company is willing to give you a big discount on a device you may not be able to afford, and in return, you commit to them for an agreed upon time in which they are able to make their money back.
So what is the problem here? The problem is some of the plans the companies are offering require you to commit to a contract and the costs of the smartphones are still extremely expensive. This is exactly the type of stuff that forces customers to visit a 3rd party retailer and pick up the cheapest Blu phone they can.
I realise that I have never visited a store that ever spoke about network speeds, talked about what phones offer faster data speeds, or were LTE-ready. If B-Mobile or Digicel want customers to take advantage of these monthly plans, if they want to push Data, they once again must find ways to get high-quality devices into the hands of consumers, and no we are not talking about Alcatel’s or Blu phones.
3) Severe Lack of Smartphone Options
I hate to say it, but the only reason 3rd party retailers stand a chance here in T&T is that our service providers offer a horrible product lineup. I know what you are thinking, how can I use the words horrible when you can walk into your nearest Digicel/B-Mobile and pick up an S8, S7, Huawei Nexus 6p, Huawei p9, etc.
Well Considering every one of those devices is way out of date, and in the case of the Nexus 6P, 2 years too late. Smartphones are being pumped out at high rates, and every quarter service providers around the world restock their shelves with manufacturer’s latest offerings. Here in T&T, it seems we get new phones once a year and usually results in a new iPhone or Samsung S-something.
The irony about all of this, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), Samsung & Apple smartphone sales have stagnated and growth is coming from a variety of manufacturers such as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo. Check out the Top 5 Smartphone Vendors for Q1 2017 article and see the numbers for yourself. So if globally sales have slowed and other markets are investing in more innovative brands, why have we not done the same? Which leads us to our next point.
4) Company’s Need Better Product Scouts
I think this is pretty self-explanatory. Most people do not know that almost all smartphone makers are from Europe. Samsung & LG are South Korean, Sony is from Japan, Lenovo/Motorola is Chinese, Apple is USA designed but made in China, Oneplus/Oppo/Huawei/Vivo/ZTE/Alcatel/TCL are all…you got it, Chinese. I say all that to say this, as a mobile expert and smartphone enthusiast, I tend to follow what is happening in the European markets much more than I will what is happening in the US market.
Reason being is that since most of the European vendors are producing all of the great smartphones, they tend to keep a lot of them within the region and some of the best devices do not make its way to American shores. The markets and customer needs we have in Trinidad are very similar if not the same in contrast to the Chinese/Indian markets then of the American market. Since most retailers in Trinidad only follow the devices that come to America, you will see why we will never be current with our products.
If our service providers had better product scouts, we would be able to enjoy the new phenomenon that is currently happening in the smartphone world. For the first time ever, cheap phones have become good and good phones have become cheap unless your name is Apple or Samsung of course.
With the vast amount of amazing devices on the market, it’s just amazing to see a telecommunications company still with devices from 2015 on their shelves. In a world where manufacturers are pumping out smartphones faster than Sauce Doubles, it pains me to see our stagnation and lack of retail creativity.
5) Investing In Mobile Experts
If it is good enough for the first retail billion dollar company (Apple) than it is good enough for anybody. Steve Jobs realised that in order for people to buy into a brand and ecosystem, they must be able to comfortably buy its products from not just knowledgeable staff but specialists. One of the jobs I had the pleasure of holding was iPhone Specialist in Apple.
I’ll tell you this, the names of the positions in Apple retail stores are not just names, it is a living breathing role that you own and embody. Some of those roles are Specialist, Expert, Genius, Creative, Leader. Nowhere on their website for the list of jobs do you see the word Sales Rep/Associate.
Why? Steve Jobs believed that when they created a product, it sold itself, but it was up to its people to understand their roles and how it connected to the consumer. A Specialist was your rep that connected you with your products, an Expert was there to support specialists if they needed assistance with information, a Genius was your technician, A Creative was your tutor, and your Leaders made sure all departments worked in synched and ran smoothly.
If our mobile industry is to grow, our telecommunications company’s need to approach retail with let us call it the Apple Vision. Products will sell itself, every manufacturer will make sure their marketing team does their job to create that demand. What we need from our retailers is people who understand that we need expertise now, not everyone wants or needs an S8.
Believe it or not, there are a variety of different types of smartphone customers that we will address in another blog. Every smartphone was made with a purpose, and here in Trinidad, it seems retailers are only interested in selling to price and not needs or value. A customer purchase value! Customers love prices, but not at the expense of value and quality.
So if your retail stores only focus on low prices and cheap products, well that is all your customers will come to you for. We need more stores to take pride in building mobile experts so that we outfit everyone with devices that fit their needs, lifestyle as well as their budget.
One thing is for certain there are more industries that are revolving around the smartphone industry. It is becoming increasingly more important for Digicel and B-Mobile as our telecoms leaders to rethink their retail strategy as the mobile field has become the foundation of for numerous other fields.
Industries have become more reliant on having a smartphone that can execute in a variety of areas. There is a lot of work to be done. If the leaders in our telecoms industry took care of these 5 areas, it would be a good place to start and move us into the right direction. We would like to hear from you, how else do you think our telecommunications companies can improve?
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