Welcome to our Ask the Expert Series. In this edition, we explore how autonomous solutions can play a key role in reducing the cost of retail for fixed and mobile operators. B2B Soft’s VP of Global Sales & Business Development Daniel Barsoum provides insights into business strategy, while CIO Igor Senchenko focuses on innovative technology available today.

Daniel, can you kick it off with a general overview of what is happening in telecom retail?

Telecom operators face continual pressure from multiple sources to expand their retail footprint. First, the depressed economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in companies closing stores or reducing them in size to conserve costs.

Now we are swinging the other way. The demand for retail outlets is rising with the current stellar economic performance. US Household Wealth hit a record high in the second quarter of 2021, according to the Federal Reserve. This will surely propel the demand for phones. But there are challenges for operators. The labor market, for example, is extremely tight and people have found positions working at home, in other professions, or simply may have left the workforce due to enhanced unemployment benefits or retirement. In addition, with inflation on the rise, operational expenses are under pressure. If that were not enough, general real estate prices in parts of the country are skyrocketing. This presents a challenging mixture of needs and constraints for expansion in telecom retail.

Given all these constraints, how can telecom operators expand their reach in retail?

Technology.

What I mean by this is autonomous technology. Autonomous technology demonstrated its talent for footprint expansion during Covid. We saw kiosks solve, at least in part, the problem of “no touch” with sensitive customers as well as alleviating problems in personnel staffing and space limitations. What we learned from our autonomous technology during the pandemic is even more valuable during this boom time. These technologies can cut costs in labor and overhead, removing the need for additional space and staff. In fact, using autonomous technology can cut the cost of expansion by about 75% over traditional physical space.

Let us say for illustrative purposes that the cost to open a store is $100,000, and the cost of a kiosk is $25,000. If an operator is launching forty stores, it would expect to spend $4M USD. However, if an operator were to deploy autonomous retail pop-up locations, then it would be closer to $1M USD. This is not an insignificant amount of money in a company’s capital budget. Capital budgets are always under pressure. This becomes especially evident in low traffic scenarios in rural areas. In these cases, a fully staffed store may not be economical. Yet telecom subscribers in rural areas demand service, sales, and access to their telecom operator. To meet this demand in an economical and efficient way, telecom operators should deploy autonomous retail locations.

Daniel Barsoum, left, and Igor Senchenko, B2B Soft

Ok, so autonomous solutions can really drive down costs. But this technology has a multitude of dimensions and is rapidly evolving. Igor, what is the integration process for autonomous retail in a carrier’s existing ecosystem? Is it a whole new channel of technology or is it plug and play?

Great question. Yes, it is more like plug and play. The solution can fit right into a carrier’s current infrastructure and becomes an untapped, brand-new distribution channel. The solution integrates with a carrier’s ERP systems for accounting and inventory, as well as their enterprise product catalog, BSS/OSS systems, IT monitoring systems and SSO tools. 

What can we expect out of this developing technology over the next couple of years? Are autonomous solutions here to stay?

Another great question. We can expect exciting innovations:

  • The total cost of ownership will continue to go down for kiosks solutions. 
  • The emergence of new, more advanced technologies will also rapidly become affordable.
  • Technologies such as 3D printing, UV LED Flatbed Printing, and engraving will allow shoppers to customize and personalize their products right at the kiosks and receive them within minutes. 
  • Technologies such as palm ✋ hand recognition and face recognition will become more widely adopted and accepted by consumers. This will facilitate faster, more convenient, and secure transactions. 
  • Augmented reality technologies such as projection mapping and hologram technologies will allow kiosks to become a more engaging and effective marketing vehicle. 
  • Video-based remote assistance will become a common way of getting help and advice on-demand. 

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