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I went to the new Nokia Flagship Experience Store Regent Street last night ...

 Ok I admit it. I am getting a little nostalgic for the days when a telephone was…a telephone. It stayed in one place, when it rang you picked it up and someone spoke…and that was about it. Last night, when I walked into a Nokia store in London the first thing they wanted to know about was about my lifestyle…to buy a phone! Things have come a long way since Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the invention of the telephone in 1876.

The latest in a series of 18 planned Nokia experience stores around the world opened on Friday in Regent Street London. The 8th store in the program, opening just a day after Chinese New Year- the year of the rat- I’m not certain if the folks at Nokia know but the number eight is exceptionally lucky in Chinese culture. Indeed Chinese mobile phone operators hold back numbers with lots of consecutive eights in them and sell and huge prices. One such number fetched nearly $40,000 at a charity auction in Zhengzhou, Henan Province a while back.

Having been rather wrong footed with the question about my lifestyle I enjoyed the Nokia experience. Not intending to stay long, as I had a lot of things to do that evening, when I looked at the time when I left (on my phone…) I spent over two hours , practically giving up my entire evening to a mobile phone experience that I did not realise I needed when I walked in. But perhaps the best bit from a Nokia point of view is that I did feel a lot better about the Nokia brand. There will be a lot of comparison with the Apple store not least because in Regent Street they are physically opposite each other. Whilst they have some similarities, to me, the biggest difference is this with all Apples talk about the stores being a brand experience, which they undoubtedly are and a master class lesson at that, they are sales focused- nothing wrong in that. Nokia on the other had feels more a place to look, play, experience, ask questions, feel confident in the brand and then buy somewhere else.

So a quick review of the store for those of you who can’t get to see it for yourselves.

Located in prime, expensive and high footfall central London - Regent Street, the public areas cover two floors, with a third for Nokia own use for seminars and meetings.

The store is operated by Nokia directly all the staff work for Nokia. The only one directly owned and operated by Nokia in the UK.

 The ground floor is conceptually divided into four areas that are aimed at different customer types with different requirements with a physical divide for the fifth area which is a store within a store.

The areas are; Essentials- the more familiar, classic Nokia style and layout, Style- for those wanting a stunning stylish look and feel; Business - for the mobile executive and IT manager; and Multimedia, to aim firmly into the phone as the centre of the multi media world. The store within a store houses their upscale brand Vertu, hand built, luxury, sometime jewel encrusted phones at reassuringly expensive prices. So much so that they did not tell me the cost … clearly they had summed me up, correctly, as not having enough money even to think of it.

Go upstairs and the first floor is divided into two sections, frankly there is just too much space on this floor with not enough going on so I would imagine over time more will happen up here. 

At the moment the left hand side is for ‘discover’, where they will have classes on how to use your phone, connectivity, loading pictures, music etc. I suppose basically everything except how to make a call. (Mr Bell would find this ironic and amusing I’m sure).

The other side is ‘engage’ where you can book some time with experts for a one to one sessions. They can also help you with setting etc. A bit like Apples genius bar.  If you need a long time with them there is a small nominal charge of about £8.00.

As you would expect there are lots of plasma screens and lifestyle pictures.

So you have gathered that overall I liked the retail experience, but that is not all the story as from the strategic and brand building perspective it hits the spot as well. Here’s why…

Brands like Nokia need to move the focus of how they are seen to secure future success.  From …a mobile phone manufacturer to being an Internet company and one that is at the centre of the connected world. (Interestingly Nokia has shifted perceptions of itself before in its history having once been best known for making televisions) After all, the Internet is moving…from being welded to your desk in your PC it is now mobile in your pocket, in your phone and at speeds that make the experience useful.  This is too big a strategic challenge to leave in the hands of mobile phone stores. Brands with strategic challenges like this need to control their own destiny or as Andy Grove famously retorted….someone else will. Doing it at retail level is essential. The ‘Experience Store Strategy’ is an important piece of the brand positioning jigsaw.

Conversations in mobile phone stores almost always start with the tariff and then end with the phone. This store turns that model it on its head. The conversation is about the phone.  The tariff is secondary… if you get to it at all. So the brand and functionality drives the process. Adding value to the manufacturer not the network.

The staff are just happy to spend time with you, rather than desperate to get to the close where they can sell you the contact and accessories and yes insurance (where lots of the margin in a mobile phone store is really made). The staff are not incentivised by sales but by brand metrics. This is reinforced by not calling their customers, ‘Customers’ but ‘Guests’. Everyone I met was very helpful, knowledgeable, fun and friendly.. As in my experience, the first questions the staff ask are about your lifestyle so they are able to quickly focus you into products and features that matter to you. This makes the conversation more relevant and quicker.

The environment is enjoyable to be in, it’s a great place spend time. Well designed and makes you feel great about the brand Nokia- it is not dominated by the network operators. You can stay there for 10 minutes or if you get there early ten hours- it’s up to you.

The products are King… The products are King …The products are King… Not the point of sale, not superfluous marketing messages… not network operators vying for their fair share of eyeballs.

The products are real. In the mobile phone shops most of them are dummy, plastic replicas. They just don’t have the tactile feel of a real phone – increasingly this is a brand discriminator.

Content is becoming an increasingly important discriminator in the connected world. Nokia are busy developing content, like the free downloadable country maps that give you navigation for their inbuilt gps functionality phones and their music download sites for the phone.  These need visibility to end-users and the experience store helps get this across.

The thing that the store lacks at the moment is atmosphere and the buzz of loads of people but I hope that will come in time as word spreads.

I hope that Nokia store number Eight is as lucky for them as the Chinese believe.

It deserves to be. Let me know what you think.

Well I’m now off to see head of mobile phones. Having had my Nokia brand experience I now realise that the phone I have is completely wrong for my lifestyle so I need a new one…wish me luck.


David Roth

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