Cutting Room: Retail pressure tells


Orange staff have been complaining this week that if they fail to meet their set targets they face the possibility of being sacked from the company.

And? Despite Orange denying it has toughened its stance on salespeople, the question has to be asked, “What’s new?”.

Like Carphone’s shop floor cost-cutting and Phones 4U’s curious changes to its sales targets, Orange is facing up to a tough market at a time when the economy is a mess.

Two million people unemployed in the UK, according to a statistic I saw the other day. To date, none of those work in Orange, Carphone, Phones 4U, or any other big mobile retailer.

I understand, better than some, what it is like to face sales targets from my own selling days. Indeed, failing can be a frustrating time, not only financially but having to explain it to the boss. But failing for three months in a row, surely shows something is awry.

Mobile sales have not been drastically lower than usual, although claims the sector is immune appear optimistic.

Our retail review shows a snapshot of the high street only, but it suggests clearly every retailer has to up its game towards the end of 2008. Most expect the pressure on sales to continue through 2009.

Selling a mobile phone is not easy, and is a very competitive business. But dare I say it, it’s not in the same league as trying to sell a house or a brand new car in this economic climate.

The networks and mobile retailers are painfully aware of the current climate, and we have heard how companies are even asking staff to save paper, and not waste ink on unnecessary printing. This is a sensible way to run a business, and until now perhaps wasn’t a concern.

Crikey, part of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech was about retreating from the idea of a land of plenty, of the kind of lavish borrowing and spending that has seen society burdened by unmanageable debt; of working together, and sharing resources and skills.

Asking staff to be aware of their targets, and to work to them, and to do what they are paid to do, well, that doesn’t sound too bad to me. By doing so, the company has no grounds to hand out P45s.

However, at the same time, if Orange is playing its own staff by offering earth-shattering web deals, then staff have reason to feel aggrieved.

Ultimately, it sounds cheap, but if Orange puts the right propositions in the market, works out its customer service as it plans, and sets stretching but realistic targets, then it’s a fair deal.