Support lines

The Middle East channel for mobile devices can be a daunting arena given the ferocity of competition and increasing commoditisation of the hardware. So do retailers feel afloat in the turbulent seas unaccompanied or are vendors providing enough of a supporting life raft to help partners stay above water? Channel Middle East investigates.

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By  Julian Pletts Published  September 13, 2008

The Middle East channel for mobile devices can be a daunting arena given the ferocity of competition and increasing commoditisation of the hardware. So do retailers feel afloat in the turbulent seas unaccompanied or are vendors providing enough of a supporting life raft to help partners stay above water? Channel Middle East investigates.

With global mobile communications vendors aggressively pushing the virtues of converged life on both consumer and commercial users, it would seem that times in the Middle East mobile devices retail channel couldn't be better.

In an indication of the momentum of the market, the number of mobile connections across the Middle East grew by an impressive 33% in 2007 to 173 million, according to research house Gartner Dataquest.

The larger proportion of product sales are in the business market, but this is still bought through the consumer business. It is not a case of businesses buying in bulk in the Middle East.

Five of the larger markets in the region have already surpassed the 100% penetration mark and Gartner estimates that the number of connections will reach 266 million users by 2012.

From a retail perspective, it is one of the strongest periods in the market's history. Average revenue per unit even rose by 2% last year after suffering several seasons of decline.

This progression, however, comes with its fair share of stresses and strains for retailers who are working hard to maintain margins as consumers become more demanding. Significant and unflinching support from the vendors that use this channel to promote their brand message is absolutely paramount.

So how much do manufacturers in the mobile device market buttress the work that the retail channel in the region does? And what more needs to be done? Although it is difficult to get vendors to reveal how much they are spending on the initiatives and incentives they are offering in support of their retailing allies, all of them profusely uphold the importance of such activities.

Sandeep Saighal, general manager of handheld phones at Samsung Gulf Electronics, admits that although he would like to see retailers develop more of a value offering, he understands that retail bosses have to analyse the bottom line.

He concedes that a large proportion of the responsibility for sales rests on the vendors' shoulders and the work they initiate with the retailer.

"We get involved in the sales process of our retail partners quite a bit," claimed Saighal. "We will drive the retail sales in a large way and most of our strategies are based on how each individual retailer makes sales."

Samsung also maintains that the work it does with retail partners has to be approached on a local basis and tweaked with varying SKUs based on the focus of each retail partner.

Mobile devices vendor HTC goes in to more detail about the specific initiatives and incentives that it has in place with its channel. The company believes one of the most important aspects of the assistance it provides is in-store promotional support.

"In terms of post-material fulfillment, we engage partners on a daily basis to ensure they have enough post-material, deal booklets, posters and other marketing material," explained Vishnu Vardhan, executive director at HTC.

But it is not just huge cardboard cut-outs and shiny demo products that are the most significant steps HTC takes to improve the sales efficiency of its retail partner's salesmen. The "frontliners" - as Vardhan refers to HTC's retail partner's sales staff - are well versed in all of the bells and whistles of HTC's high-end range of PDAs and mobile devices.

"We have our own merchandisers going around the retailers on a daily basis and conducting spot trainings of the frontliners," revealed Vardhan.

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