Local electronics and tech retailers are starting to think beyond the big-box stores and kiosk formats. Plug-Ins, the Al Futtaim Group-owned retailer, has come out with the "mobility" concept, stores strategically located in high-density shopper destinations.
For instance, at the Deira City Centre, the Plug-Ins mobility store is next to the Metro link entrance. As far as catchment areas go, it can't get any better than this when it comes to tapping into shoppers' penchant for impulse buying, and particularly so when it comes to gadgets.
"By nature, mobility stores are focused on a particular range that attracts impulse customers," said Sean Connor, general manager at Plug-Ins. "It's a concept which enables us to remove the clutter and get the product to be in the forefront.
"That, in a sense, would naturally appeal to a customer's impulse to have these products. The flip side of that coin is that it still creates value for customers that want to be more prudent, because it allows easy comparison since the size of the store makes it very easy to shop."
And sizes do matter. The retailer's mobility stores are a tenth of its big-box formats. The one at Deira City Centre, which opened in December, is just over 1,000 square feet.
"We try to maximise by transforming our merchandising standards to accommodate a good range without losing focus on the idea that it has to be easy for our customers to shop," said Connor. "We are improving our controls of inventory on hand at all times and, currently, are performing better than our forecast."
So much so, according to Connor, the three mobility stores that the retailer operates are attracting three times the footfall per square foot compared to its bigger stores. Apart from resident shoppers, tourists have also had a hand in the early upbeat numbers. This is where the locations have played their part.
"Additionally, we feel tourists enjoy shopping at these stores as much because of the look and feel of the store as anything else," said Connor.
But wouldn't it have been easier to scale down further and go with a kiosk concept?
"I would say that first and foremost it's important to understand that the idea of a kiosk is to attract a customer with no intention of shopping for that particular product," said Connor.
"Our mobility concept aims to satisfy the growing needs of customers who want to make an educated decision when making a purchase. The relative ease of entry to the store and additional foot traffic generated by that is a by-product of the concept and not a core theme of the store."
Even with the mobility format catching on, Plug-Ins does not intend to shut any of its larger stores. With good reason too as "the big-box continues to be profitable and relevant to customers", he added.
"Big-box stores are still very well positioned with customers because they've come to be regarded as ‘electrical playgrounds' so to speak; there will always be a place for these stores in consumer electronics."
Going forward, its new stores will tend to be smaller.
"There are significant advantages to reducing the store size apart from the appeal that comes with the mobility concept," said Connor.
"The mobility concept is a great way to expand our footprint in the UAE and beyond because they're easier to open.
"They keep us relatively agile since we won't have to make an investment similar to what we spend on our big-box concept.
"In the short term at least, we are looking to expand our footprint in the UAE and, of course, international expansion will always be an ambition."