MobileStore: Retail recall

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SummaryThe MobileStore is joining the ranks of global giants like Tesco, Debenhams and Pep Stores to vie for a top spot in the World Retail Awards to be held in Paris on Oct 8

When the MobileStore, a countrywide chain of telecom retail outlets, takes to the dais for the World Retail Awards in Paris on October 8, it will join the ranks of global giants like Tesco, BWG Foods, Debenhams and Pep Stores to vie for a place in the top spot. The Essar Group-owned venture is the only Indian company to be nominated this year and is only the third company from the country to reach the nominations after successful wins by Pantaloons in 2007 and Shoppers Stop in 2008.

Talking about the company’s nomination for the awards in the ‘supply chain initiative’ category, its CEO Himanshu Chakrawarti says the intention was to reduce the inventory level, which was about 20 to 27 days in 2011, as most prices kept dropping and margins were slim. “We wanted to develop the algorithm for forecasting, assortment mix deployment, auto-ordering and replenishment, and also to utilise the existing IT system to deploy these solutions across multiple channels,” says Chakrawarti, adding that the inventory level has now been reduced to 18 days, which has resulted in an improved operating cash flow and has allowed the company to be more financially flexible.

Chakrawarti is optimistic about their chances of winning the award, but is keeping his fingers crossed as he doesn’t want to underestimate others in the league. “It’s difficult to say because the nominees are all different from each other. It depends on the jury, on which features they like,” he adds. Although Chakrawarti is worried about the recent RBI diktat ending interest-free EMI options, he is hopeful that the industry will find a quick solution. The company is also focusing on strengthening its online presence, which accounts for about 2-3% of its sales, and is hopeful that it will only grow further in the near future.

‘Supply chain’ may be its forte, but The MobileStore is also betting big on the new ‘lounge’ format for its retail outlets, which has reportedly increased their revenues by as much as 40%. Buoyed by the positive response, it now plans to convert about 100 of its existing stores into lounges, while adding about 50 such stores across top 10 cities in the next 10-12 months. The recently-opened Noida outlet is the third lounge for the company after the ones in Pune and Delhi.

Comfort calling

Ratnesh Sinha, a 20-something college-goer from the capital city who’s planning his first cellphone upgrade, visits The MobileStore Lounge in Noida. With a plethora of options in front of him, he’s confused about choosing a model that will suit both his usage patterns as well as his budget. So, he approaches a ‘tech buddy’ who takes him on a guided tour of the store and lets him try out the ‘live’ phone models (not dummies, as seen in traditional stores) on display.

Sinha does not have to look around for what goes best with his new possession because there are complementing accessories placed just below the phones. What’s a smartphone without apps? So, Sinha moves on to the ‘Android zone’ to download some. However, being a little pressed for time, Sinha buys Google Play cards to download the relevant stuff later at home. He finally transfers data from his old handset to the new with the ‘phone OS agnostic data transfer dock’ facility that is on offer free of cost. All this in a relaxed atmosphere and in the cool confines of a lounge area that is an integral part of the store.

Launched in 2006, The MobileStore, formerly known as Essar Telecom Retail, currently has over 850 stores across India, spread across 100 cities. For Chakrawarti, the CEO of the company, the idea to come up with lounges struck in 2011 when smartphones started to capture the market trend in India. He saw that very few were able to operate and utilise the features of smartphones to the best of their capabilities. “We decided to capture the smartphone market because we felt that mobility has become a key thing for consumers today,” says Chakrawarti.

Sky is the limit

Mobility has, in fact, added an endless world of possibilities for the consumer. Chakrawarti elaborates: “Nokia’s Lumia series, for instance, has a feature called City Lens, through which a user can find out about an area’s shops, restaurants and businesses just by holding the phone in that direction. You can then read reviews, book a table and find the quickest route to the destination. But how many are aware about this?” asks Chakrawarti, adding that display of such new avenues would be the high point of their lounges.

The company has also partnered with Samsung for its all-share technology app which allows users of select Samsung devices to push media files such as pictures to servers in the cloud. “Another compelling capability is SmartView, which lets one mirror what’s being displayed, and heard, on compatible Samsung TVs to enjoy on tablets and smartphones around the house,” adds Chakrawarti.

The experimentation of new formats is but an offshoot of the smartphone success story. Be it a student, a professional or a housewife, everyone wants to own a smartphone today. According to a CyberMedia report, smartphones accounted for 9.4% of mobile phone sales in the country in the January-April period as against 2.8% in the corresponding period last year.

“People come to lounges because they can experience almost all varieties of live phones in a single spot,” says Abhijeet Singh, a customer sales associate at The MobileStore lounge in Noida.

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