Speakers’ Corner: Retailing apps


The increase in the number of smartphones on the mobile market, coupled with the opening of mobile application stores by most manufacturers, might all seem like bad news for retail. After all, we only have so much money in our pockets, so cash spent online can only harm the High Street.

It is a similar situation in the music industry. Most music is being downloaded illegally. Why? One reason, is that  a large proportion of the population does not necessarily have access to buying online. 

When I was a kid I would walk into a record store on the high street every Saturday, browse through the shelves and pay for my records at the till.

It was one of the best parts of my week and the thrill of discovering something new and interesting was all part of the experience. For youngsters that do not have a credit or debit card – or for adults who wish, for whatever reason, not to have a credit card or not to trust online transactions – this causes a problem.

They cannot get access to content that is only online – whether it is music, video or mobile phone applications. This position has been further affected by the recent melt down in the high street. 

I was sat in a record label’s offices in South Kensington recently and realised that the nearest place that you could buy a large selection of music was more than three miles away. 

Here we were at the centre of the UK music industry and yet there was nowhere near to buy music. There are lessons here for mobile.

If, as predicted, there are around 20 million people by the end of the year with smartphones, there will be a proportion of these who will not want or be able to buy content or mobile applications online. 

They may be in the pub with friends who have a mobile experience that they want, but they cannot easily get it. This is why the mobile applications market offers a great opportunity for retail. 

Just as many people are excluded from digital music downloading. So they will but from the mobile applications market – unless someone grabs the opportunity to retail these directly to the consumer. 

This might take the form of physical packs with applications in, or a range of applications to download for a fixed price. Either way, there is a great opportunity to add value to customers when they are in a mobile store.

And of course, if they like what they get, they will return next week to see what else is available, generating further footfall. It can become as much a part of someone’s week as my visit to the record shop used to be.

This is where physical mobile retail stores can compete with virtual mobile application stores: they can offer a service which is not available online or in the supermarkets. 

They can advise the customer what is available for their phone and which applications they might use. They can ensure everything is working before the customer leaves the store. They can build a relationship that is simply unavailable online.

Sometimes the technology industry forgets that, for a large proportion of the population, life is not about MP3 and DRM or megapixel and 3G. People want something that works for them and someone to help them get it.  Good advice from someone you trust will never go out of fashion.