Cashing in

It has been a long time coming, but finally the focus has moved away from the actual handset as more attention is given to the person behind the phone. Vendors are starting to pay more attention to satisfying customer needs then they are to the product in the box.

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By  Rania Adwan Published  July 4, 2001

Cashing in - mobile retail marketing|~||~||~|Vendors are beginning to take note of who it is buying their technologies, shifting their energies away from serving the product and concentrating more on serving the customer. Part of the problem has always been the regional time lag. Consumers here were simply not as aware of new mobile technology as quickly as their counterparts in Europe. Today this has all changed, forcing vendors to rethink their marketing strategy.

"We've channelled our skills into the customer," explained Clemens Jargon, vice president global customer care, Siemens. "It's more than just the final packaged product, it is also everything around it, it's finding what the customer wants and needs then tailoring a solution around it."

It seems change has come about because a change in customer mindset. Speak to any vendor and you can expect the same response. Nokia recently unfolded its latest consumer services in the form of a digital Internet service called Club Nokia. "Our product has evolved beyond hardware, it's an entire concept that we are now pitching," said Eddie Maalouf, marketing manager, Nokia mobile phones. "This value-added service truly enhances your experiences of owning a Nokia mobile phone."

Brand loyalty has always been an issue and when all is said and done it is the final word in marketing strategy. Club Nokia is a perfect example of adding value to the consumer brand. Nokia has been around long enough to establish itself as a leading player in the industry. With extras like the chance to become a Club Nokia member, the company is essentially drawing its customers in for life; from there you can expect preferential treatment and the likes of discount prices — the opportunities are endless.

But the revamped marketing style of the vendors hasn't stopped there: the new and reformed attitude has sifted down through the lines of distribution and ultimately into the realms of retail. Specialist outlets like Fono, Axiom and Aptec are opening new stores throughout the Middle East and Gulf region to fill the gap in the market.
The process of buying a mobile phone is far from haphazard.

A lot of thought needs to go into not only what phone you want to buy but also what features, accessories and services will come as part of the package. In the past, retail outlets were merely box shifters but, as the retailers slowly become brand names in their own rights customer interaction becomes top priority.

Contrary to the beliefs of the vendors, price is still foremost in the buyers mind. In an ITP.net survey, conducted about mobile buying trends, 54% of people felt that price was still the most important issue. The difference is that customers are now more willing to pay for quality than ever before. Specialist stores stand head-and-shoulders over other phone sellers as they are constantly updating their stock to offer you the latest models that come on the market.

The specialist store can afford to offer promotions and subsidies as part of the final package. The marketing department can happily shop around, making deals with service providers to bring you a choice in complete packages.

Another consideration is that the future of the product lies beyond the actual product. Mobile technology has dramatically changed over recent years and continues to do so, with the concentration moving from voice to data technology usage.

The latest models churned out are so packed with features and extra applications it is virtually impossible to get the most out of the phone without being shown how to do it, especially since we've yet to find anyone who reads the phone's manual. The level of expertise offered by the trained staff in the specialist stores is a key component to happy shopping. This is, after all, their job.

The fact that they don't sell TVs, microwaves and other technologies means that they can concentrate entirely on your queries.
||**||Cashing in - mobile retail marketing |~||~||~|
Perhaps it is more accurate to describe mobile retailing as an experience. It calls on the customer to understand his or her needs and requirements before venturing out, wallets open and money ready. The type of person you are, as well as your needs, will dictate where you ought to shop.

Though stores selling mobile phones may be numerous, you would be easily mistaken in believing that the difference between them was the same. Your choice falls neatly into three categories: the supermarket, the specialist store and everything that follows.

Before you throw your cash away, it is important to understand what kind of shopper you become when looking to buy a mobile phone. Are you aware of the model choices out there? Do you know what you want? Are you restricted to a fixed budget?

The reason non-specialist stores are still selling mobile phones is because not everyone wants the latest and greatest and not everybody is willing to pay extra for the quality of service. Only 35% of people responding to the ITP survey cited staff knowledge as an important factor when considering buying mobile phones. The supermarket will offer you low priced entry-level phones with some form of guarantee.

"Hypermarkets sell everything like a commodity and the overriding value is discount. They don't necessarily specialise in mobile communication, they sell phones among a number of other electrical and electronic products," said Faisal Al Bannai, vice president of the Al Bannai Enterprises and Axiom Telecom.

"The main differences between these stores and Axiom, besides the specialisation angle, is the specialised consultancy service that you get when you visit the store. Axiom offers the latest in the mobile communications market. We make it a point to carry in our shop the latest mobile phones, PDAs and mobile software the moment it hits the market. At Axiom you can browse, shop, ask questions and buy in a very favourable and friendly environment. The whole concept of the shop was created to empower customers to have the 'maximum communication' at their fingertips."

At the opposite end of the scale is the flourishing grey market. Many people are still tempted into spending their hard earned cash in the computer streets of the world, often unaware that they are buying from unofficial channels. Unbeknown to them they are leaving themselves without an after-sales warranty and fuelling a fire that vendors are fighting very hard against.

"The grey market is the thorn in the mobile industry side," said Gabriel Sjogren, regional product manager, Ericsson. "We are doing everything we can to stamp it out." From a company perspective, Ericsson, among others, has made it that little bit harder for grey market sellers by utilising things like holograms, box labels and serial numbers. "We feel," added Sjogren, "that the key to keeping these unofficial channels in check is by educating both the buyers and the distributors."

When it comes to the grey market, what you see is not always what you get. Normally vendors are asked to approve the entries coming into a certain country and to pay a certain amount in licensing fees. Once all the formalities are complete the models hit the shelves and can be duly supported.

The grey market develops when dealers are not given official reseller status or simply want to lower prices and deal with product shortages. Most stores will at least make the effort to ensure that the phones in their shop windows are real brand names, but these are still not be supported in the country. Often, however, the phones are blatant rip-offs of the real deal. Another common problem with the grey market is its heavy alliance with stolen goods.

"Shoppers are made to believe that they are actually making a killer saving. In fact, they can expect to run into more costly problems in the future, when the phone and they have to fork out for repair costs," said Kazi Najib Ashraf, regional manager, product marketing and service, Siemens. "Or worse still, should it be fake and it breaks they will need to go out and buy a new one."

The choices available to the region’s mobile consumers are more than ever before. But at the same time, shoppers need to be extra vigilant to ensure that they are buying what they had intended to buy.||**||

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