Telstra CEO David Thodey and Group Managing Director Kartsen Wildberger came out today to launch a new flagship store on George St, Sydney. It’s across the road from the Apple store, right where Darrell Lea used to be, and it promises to give the already number-one telco a significant advantage over the competition. Along with the new digs comes an intelligent mixture of technology and face-to-face communication that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.
Of course, that’s the plan. The store opens its doors to customers tomorrow, at which point we’ll find out how much of Telstra’s lofty ambitions pay off, and which could do with some touching up.
The real-world shopping experience hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years. Of course, the products are different and you have more options when it comes to payment, but when you actually get down to the process of talking to a sales assistant and deciding what to buy it’s basically the same.
Then you have the internet. It’s all very good to look at today’s online shopping market and talk about living in the future, but the truth of it is that 90% of people still buy their phones and sign up to plans in-store. There’s something reassuring about speaking to a person, even if it’s only to get confirmation that all the research you already did online was accurate.
These two shopping experiences have remained almost totally distinct from one-another. Telstra is aiming to change that by tracking (with your permission) your online activities and letting you take them in-store with you. You can do the research online, then head in to a store and pick up where you left off or vice-versa.
By simply browsing and talking to attendants, you are creating a personalised profile accessible by both you and the salespeople. With already-covered information being accessible both in-store and out, there’s less need for repetition and more possibilities for you to directly compare products and find yourself the best solution.
The new store itself is replete with impressive gizmos and flashy screens which remind you at every turn that this is a new-age shopping experience. Even the storage side of things is different. Instead of keeping everything out back, or hidden under a desk, all of the phone stock is kept in a frosted glass cabinet with an electronic lock. This way you won’t have to wait around awkwardly for your sales assistant to rummage around out back for your product; it’s all right there all the time.
Eventually, Telstra will even be giving its employees their own business phone and cards, so that you can continue to deal with the same service representative who is in turn more familiar with you and the kind of mobile experience you’re after. Just exactly which of its employees will be part of this system isn’t too clear just yet, but we’ll find out when it launches down the track.
Tap and go
The way you keep track of all your info is with the tap and go system. The way it works is pretty simple. You grab a card and either start browsing or ask someone for assistance. Each phone display has its own touch-screen interface with layers of information stored in a simple menu. If you decide that this is a phone you want to keep in mind, just hit an on-screen button and place your card on the lit-up circle to the right. The information is saved and you can look it back up online anytime you want.
Go back in to the store and any assistant you talk to can scan your card and get an immediate overview of what you’ve been looking at and move on from there.
Any plans you’ve been discussing with a store person can also be saved in this way, as well as possibly who it was you were talking to and when.
Flash on the surface
One of the biggest draw-cards is going to be the sandbox surface. It’s a large tabletop display made from several touch-screen panels designed to help you find out more about your phone in the most in-your-face techy way possible.
Grab a display model phone, on the back of which is an identifying tag, and place it on the table. Immediately specs and a menu system will pop up around it. Sliding the phone around causes the options to slide with it, which is a very nice touch.
From here you can check out available plans and reviews. The information is no different from what you might get on any other display; this is just a much cooler way of displaying it.
Be that as it may it’s a fantastic idea. With a camera in every hand connected to a social media platform word-of-mouth, or photo-of-smartphone, is more powerful than ever before. Expect a few pics from astounded friends cropping up on your feed in the near future. Every one of which will be free advertising for Telstra.
Technology doesn’t sleep
A great thing about online stores is they don’t need to close for the night. Of course, this new flagship location will have to, but not quite entirely.
Connected to the front window displays will be, we’re told, options for interfacing with Telstra’s store network. Just exactly what you’ll be able to do is a little unclear at present, but the option for booking yourself an appointment right through the store window was mentioned. You’ll undoubtedly be able to browse phones and plans, as well as a few choice reviews as well.
People are still important
The important thing to note is that all of this tech, every bit, is designed to make your interactions with the store staff easier on both sides. It’s all going towards building customer relations and breaking down the barriers that can pop up between the customer and staff.
There’s a lot of information that needs to be conveyed and stored when it comes to handsets and plans. Making that information more accessible helps to break down a few obstacles and make getting to the transaction with the right product easier.
Although it won’t be running at launch, Telstra even plans to get its staff to call customers they’ve personally served to make sure everything is going ok with their new service, and whether or not they’d like to come in and book another appointment.
As a concept, a telco using tech to make communication easier between its employees and customers makes perfect sense. Then again, receiving unwarranted follow-up calls from your provider may sound better on paper than it performs in practice.
Spreading the love
Eventually, the plan is for every Telstra-branded store to offer as close an experience to all of this as possible. CEO David Thodey admitted that not every piece of tech could make it to every store. After all, floor space is still an important consideration. Overall, though, it was all developed with a rollout in mind.
“The main cost was development, so the biggest job is done,” said Karsten Wildberger, Group Managing Director.
Details about timeframe were conspicuously absent, but you can bet the rush will be on to get as many stores up and running with the new services as quickly as possible, before Optus and Vodafone have a chance to patch together their own futuristic shopping experiences.