The Superphone Era Demands an Improved Retail Experience

iStock_000001589232SmallThe mobile phone shopping experience is plagued with uninformed retail staffers and intolerably long wait times at the sales counter, according to new figures from Amdocs (s dox). The St. Louis-based provider of software and services to the communications industry found that while 60 percent of respondents visited a retail outlet in the U.S., UK and Canada in the last six months with the intention of buying something, 25 percent of those left the store empty-handed. Fewer than two-thirds of those surveyed said that the in-store experience had met their expectations and less than 20 percent said the trip improved their perception of their service provider.

While Amdocs has a dog in this fight — the company launched a retail solution for service providers today — the survey sheds some much-needed light on the mobile retail space, which for years has disappointed consumers. Carrier-branded stores are limiting and have failed to meet consumers’ needs, as a 2005 study from The NPD Group notes, and big-box retailers haven’t done much better. Meanwhile, the handful of efforts to provide a dedicated, educational shopping experience floundered in the last few years as cost-conscious consumers sought no-frills handsets for voice and text use only.

But customers’ needs are ramping up as more sophisticated handsets move into the mainstream. A survey earlier this year from Best Buy (s bby) — which is entering the market with both standalone and in-store efforts — indicated 47 percent of non-smartphone owners are too confused by the number of models and features available, and 39 percent don’t own a smartphone because they hate shopping for electronics products. Those concerns seem particularly valid as consumers who traditionally use feature phones move into high-end handsets that sport a host of advanced mobile applications.

Apple has done a fantastic job of demonstrating how knowledgeable, informative employees and a hands-on retail environment can help educate mobile consumers as they push product out the door. As smartphone platforms such as Android (s goog), BlackBerry (s rimm) and Palm’s (s palm) webOS continue to find an audience among mainstream consumers, there will be an increasing need for retailers with staffers who can informatively offer handsets and services from a variety of carriers. Which is why I expect to see Best Buy — and, perhaps, some competitors — gain serious momentum in mobile over the next year.