LONDON — Mobile operator EE has signed a deal with Sainsbury’s to open 100 new “stores within stores” in supermarkets and Argos shops.
The deal is part of a rethink of EE’s retail strategy that will make it more “flexible,” according to the phone network’s head of retail and e-commerce chief, Ettienne Brandt.
“Two years ago, 97% of our estate would be tied up with one lease or another,” he told Business Insider. “We’ll take that number down to 70% in the next two years.”
The concessions in Sainsbury’s and Argos will take EE’s total number of retail locations to 700 and the expansion will create 400 new jobs.
“We’ve set ourselves an ambition of getting to 95% of the UK within a 20-minute drive,” Brandt told BI.
As part of that ambition, EE is experimenting with new ways of selling phones, including pop-up shops, “cabins”, and a van.
“We’ve been using it at festivals,” Brandt said of the van. “It’s great for student events where universities are open. We’ve also been rolling out our 4G to more rural locations and it’s great for doing that, getting customers to sign up.”
EE only has one van at the moment. Brandt said the project could expand but would remain in the “single figures.”
All of these experiments are part of a revamp of EE’s strategy for selling phones, adapting to the changing habits of consumers. Traffic to major High Streets in the UK is in decline as more people move online and Brandt says retailers need to be increasingly smart about how they present themselves.
“The old model of having loads of shops with loads of lease exposure — I think you’re asking for trouble if you do that,” he said.
“It is a changing landscape, especially for retail. You have to adapt and that’s why we’ve signed up to this partnership. Even if you think about our shops on the high street — if you look at the footfall you get at a Sainsbury’s and you compare that to one of our stores, it’s as you can imagine probably 1,000 times bigger. We’re evolving to move to those locations.”
EE is also introducing video help desks in stores and offering more services in a bit to encourage people into them in the first place.
Brandt says: “A lot of people will pop in because they have got an issue. It’s just evolution. Some people look at stores as just sales machines. We look at it as sales and service.”