In a challenging retail environment, you’d expect EE to be a little concerned about launching 100 new stores across the country, but Ettienne Brandt, MD of channels and trading at EE, is surprisingly relaxed.

What he calls the “evolution” of the store, has opened up new retail opportunities to the mobile network operator (MNO), which historically had hundreds of stores tied up in long leases.

Now the retailer has six different store formats to challenge the high street, with the most significant being its 100-store tie up with Sainsbury’s Argos which will take its store estate to nearly 700 over the next two years.

Back in March, Sainsbury’s closed its own Mobile by Sainsbury’s operation, leading to EE snapping up 16 of the 38 locations. On top of this, the MNO has now benefitted from the Sainsbury’s Argos merger, announcing the launch of a further 100 concessions within Argos stores over the next two years, taking its store estate up to almost 700, by far the largest of a UK mobile operator.

“We aim to have 95% of the UK population within a 20 minute drive of an EE store by 2019,” says Brandt.

“Our view is being personal to customers, we consider ourselves a premium brand – the fastest and the biggest – so you need to give customers a premium experience,” he says, explaining the importance of offering a face-to-face customer service.

“That’s not to say we don’t use technology, we have video conferencing and we’re dabbling in chat, it’s a continually evolving business,” he adds. “But if you’re smartphone breaks today, you need it solved ASAP and the easiest way is in the shop face-to-face. Us sending out a jiffy bag and you sending it back, is not a great personal experience. And the best customer experience is key – if you give customers a great experience they are happy to buy more products from you.”

Showcase stores

As well as the new concession stores, EE is launching four ‘Showcase’ stores in Westfield White City, Westfield Stratford, Tottenham Court Road and Nottingham Victoria. These stores will be 50% bigger than a typical EE store and will feature help hubs as well as more space to display 4K TVs and its BT TV and broadband offering.

The ‘Showcase’ stores will also have video calling technology from BT, where customers can be connected with tech experts in the call centre if store staff cannot solve their query. When trialled, the video conferencing technology scored an MPS score of 100%.

Pop-ups

EE pop-ups, cabins and vans will also join EE’s ever-evolving fleet of store formats, these ‘mobile’ stores, include portable cabins which Brandt can imagine being placed in a Sainsbury’s car park in the near future, while vans could feature in even more temporary or remote locations, such as festivals and student unions during freshers’ week.

“We’ve rolled out 4G to places which don’t justify a shop," explains Brandt. "But we can put a cabin there and test it out, and if it works, great you leave it, and if not, we can put it on the back of a truck and move somewhere else.”