3 to triple its number of UK mobile phone stores

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The Independent Online

The mobile phone company 3 plans to triple the number of stores it operates in the UK by the end of the year as part of a wider refreshment of its retail presence. It also plans to launch a major advertising campaign next month.

3 will add more than 40 stores to bolster its chain of 20 and will look to redesign its shops so that customers can trial unfamiliar new services. The company, which operates only a third-generation network, offers advanced mobile content services including a user-generated television station, live streaming of ITV1, pre-release music downloads and video-calling. It also operates about 150 concessions in Selfridges and Superdrug stores and will redesign that floorspace to highlight its new services.

3 is owned by the Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, which also owns Superdrug. Hutchison has spent billions of pounds to secure a UK licence for 3G services and to build its network. It has also poured hundreds of millions of pounds into acquiring subscribers.

At the last count it had 3.5 million customers, but has put a flotation of the UK business on hold after its sister company in Italy failed to attract a valuation that matched Hutchison's expectations.

Bob Fuller, the chief executive of 3 UK, said: "In the future, people will not just come through the door and ask for the latest Nokia or the cheapest deal. With 3G, this really is a different selling process and as services get more sophisticated, it is only going to get more complicated for the customer."

He said third-party retailers such as Carphone Warehouse do not necessarily have the time to explain to each shopper what services 3G can offer.

The UK high street has had a mixed summer, but mobile phone retailers have gone from strength to strength. Independent mobile phone shops such as Carphone Warehouse and Phones4U have continued to grow sales at a rapid rate despite mobile phone companies including O2 and T-Mobile investing in more branded stores and online sales channels.

Competition in the mobile retail market is tough with more and more branded stores competing directly with the expanding Carphone Warehouse and Phones4U as well as online retailers and supermarkets such as Tesco. Earlier this year, O2 took full control of The Link as the chain had struggled to turn around its performance against its main rivals. O2 will rebrand most of The Link stores under its own banner but will offload some of the outlets.

Mr Fuller added that 3 plans to launch a major advertising campaign next month to coincide with its push into the retail sector. The marketing aims to set out the company as offering different services from those of other operators.

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