Selling SIM

Retailers dial into a new wireless potential.

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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Convenience retailers tracking the downturn in prepaid wireless, many of whom also struggle to sell expensive mobile phones in an attempt to become destination spots, may have a new reason for hope: grab-and-go kits that will dial into a new revenue stream and foster destination purchases without the hassle of selling handsets.

The emerging “bring your own phone” phenomenon may even put c-stores in the catbird seat, as people start to understand that they need only to swap out the phone’s subscriber identity module (or SIM) card to switch carriers and potentially cut their rates in half.

The movement rides the trend of no-contract plans. It’s all a word game. Tomatoes and tom-aah-toes. Because no contract and prepaid wireless are essentially the same thing: monthly pre-service billing and payment via snail mail, retail, online or mobile methods. But the term prepaid suggests the unbanked, while “no contract” appeals to the credit-worthy customer who simply wakes up to the obvious deal.

For the retailer, it’s a reconnection to what had always been a growing revenue stream: wireless refilling in a prepaid environment. It’s a somewhat complicated but nonetheless happy concept, potentially breathing new life into a struggling category.

“The prepaid wireless has fallen to where no-contract wireless is a bigger portion of the [business],” says Frank White, director of retail operations for Tri-State Petroleum, Wheeling, W.Va. “But a lot of programs are coming soon to help against the mass merchants and drug stores.”

The proliferation of mobile phones has had a distinct effect on both retail sales and operations, providing opportunities to sell actual products and services as well as driving efficiencies that range from mobile payment to marketing. In addition to the SIM kits, trends on the product side include:

  • Virtual aisles. A customer can shop for items online, via mobile phones or through terminals at the store and have the product delivered to his or her home or to the store for later pickup.
  • Gaming. Everything from lottery to poker is on the horizon in prepaid formats, with legislation tying the cards back to the brick-and-mortar store.
  • Transit cards. Seeking to cut the cost of handling coins and bills, cities and municipalities are introducing prepaid cards for use on public transportation.
  • General-purpose reloadable cards targeting higher-income demographics. New packaging is being unveiled. Though specifics have yet to emerge, new wording and graphics will talk about the product in a way that’s appealing to a more upscale yet budget-conscious demographic.

Mobile trends on the operational side include:

  • Mobile wallets. Debate continues on the potential of customers paying for products and services with their cellphones, because tests languish and retailers remain hesitant.
  • Marketing. The question of how to use social media and smartphone applications (apps) continues to swirl.
  • Operational uses. Retailers have yet to fully consider mobile to create efficiencies within their operations.


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