The salesman’s prerogative

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Retailers have always structured deals, with massive and often unsustainable discounts, to lure customers onto certain network contracts.

But now, with the UK market at saturation point, retailers are being forced to rethink their sales strategies.

The cashback scandal that ran through last year was a symptom of desperate third parties constructing mad business models just to try and compete with the high street – and it brought into focus the kinds of sharp sales practices traditionally used in mobile retail.

Pressure from regulator Ofcom has since forced the issue, and many retailers have stepped away from cashback completely.

Declining voice revenues (again forced through by regulation) and market saturation has seen the network operators switch focus too. They now want high-spending customers who use a multitude of data applications.

But, while the climate is changing in many ways, certain things haven’t changed at all: shoppers are still led by devices, and value, rather than airtime services, and they still expect mobile phones to be free if they sign up for a monthly contract.

The sometimes shark-like negotiating skills of mobile store staff are also considered to be alive and well.

So, with all the competition on the high street, savvy shoppers expect to broker deals with the staff themselves, rather than simply signing up to a retailer’s stated offers.

The question is, how far can a punter push a mobile retailer to get the deal he wants? Or, how far will retailers go to sign a customer?

And, ultimately, how relevant is the pricing in shop windows and sales catalogues?

To find out, Mobile News mystery shopped 21 stores in central London belonging to the big network and multiple retailers (three from each).

Each time, we looked to obtain the best deal possible for a black Nokia N95 8GB (a device available SIM-free for around £600) on a low-end 18-month contract.

We ignored the advertised monthly tariff rates, which ranged from £30 to £45 for a free N95 8GB, and pushed store staff as low as they would go.

Except for 3, which was offering stonking good value anyway and refused to budge at all, an offer better than the advertised rate was obtained from every store.

In some cases, we saved almost £200 on the stated offers.

Full story in Mobile News, issue 417 (June 30, 2008)

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