Technology specialist O2 Retail is set to close 40 stores over the next few months as the company looks to invest in customer service and its big flagship outlets.
Some 250 jobs are to go at the business, but almost the same number of specialist roles will be created as the firm focuses on providing visitors to its stores with relevant technological knowledge.
These so-called guru roles are similar to the tech experts who are on hand to help consumers at retailers such as Best Buy UK, Apple and Dixons’ new Black store, highlighting the value customers now attach to accurate technology information and interactive browsing.
As part of the changes at O2, up to 100 of its best-performing stores will be upgraded and refitted to feature live handset displays, gaming lounges and the O2 Guru Bar, where the new look staff will be situated to answer visitors’ questions.
The move to provide specialist tech staff is a direct result of the influence that the US has had on UK retail, but a store reduction strategy is something that may become very typical of the British retail industry in the months ahead.
Professor Joshua Bamfield, Director of the Centre for Retail Research, said earlier this month that he expects around 10,000 shops to close in 2011 as retailers reduce the size of their property portfolios due to mounting economic pressures.
Bamfield remarked: “Independents and multiples will close stores, with some of the larger businesses reducing their network of stores by 10-15 per cent, partly because of the growth of online retail and partly due to consumer spending reducing.”
A spokesperson for O2 Retail told Retail Gazette today that the company’s store closures are not about underperformance because investment in retail is growing.
Richard Baylis, General Manager at O2 Retail, explained: “This is a whole new approach for our retail business, starting from a position of strength and with the customer experience at the heart.
“Our increased investment, store redesign and introduction of 250 extra gurus will really help make sales and service inseparable for the customer and subsequently deliver a better experience.”
Changes announced today will also have a positive affect on the O2 staff who remain in their jobs, as the company plans to establish a more dynamic career path for its employees.
Retail pay and reward structures are being realigned to ensure people with the right skills, knowledge and experience will be given the rewards they deserve and placed in the stores they are most suited to.
Baylis added: “Our staff will be empowered to deliver customer experience, using their expertise to graduate through the ranks of a three-tiered O2 store portfolio.”