A carrier mall fight: Telus wireless devices now available at Black’s

Just in time for the beginning of the critical holiday shopping season, Telus Corp. (TSX: T) announced Thursday that its wireless products and services are now available at Black Photo Corp. locations across Canada.

Telus acquired the Black’s photography and digital imaging retail chain and its 113 nationwide storefronts in September for $28 million. The deal was designed to further advance its wireless and data strategy by expanding the distribution of its wireless products and services across Canada, but was also a move to match rival wireless carrier Bell Mobility, which earlier in the year acquired the The Source by Circuit City retail chain.

“Our customer’s needs are evolving. More and more wireless devices come complete with high quality photo and video capabilities, and through our distribution at Black’s, Telus customers who are passionate about photography will be able to easily select the device that best suits their needs,” said Joe Natale, president, Telus consumer solutions, in a statement. “We’re excited to launch Telus’ best-in-class wireless devices at Black’s.”

A selection of Telus products are now available at Black’s, and keeping with Black’s imaging legacy the marketing is centred around positioning the devices as camera phones. Among the Telus smartphones now available at Black’s are the BlackBerry’s Bold 9700, Storm2 9550 and Curve 8330, plus devices from Nokia, LG, Motorola and Samsung. Also available exclusively through Telus and on sale at Black’s is the new HTC Hero A6262, which launched in Canada this week.

Getting access to malls storefronts was a central strategy in the acquisitions by both Telus and Bell and their retail strategies going forward. Now the executive director for smartphone vendor HTC in Canada, Francois Gravel helped develop Bell’s Bell World retail channel. He sees the malls as critical to the carriers.

“I believe that the malls should be a destination shop for customers, and I think the more points of presence the better,” said Gravel. “I think the carriers are doing the right thing by establishing their bricks and mortar because it’s where the customer is going to go in and see the experience.”

And that in person, touch and feel user experience is important when it comes to selling smartphones, said Gravel. More so than with a simple cell phone with send/end capability, a smartphone is feature-rich device that needs a demo by a knowledgeable sales associate.

“With a smartphone you want a sales associate to be able to demonstrate the product and have live products in store,” said Gravel. “So I think some of these bricks and mortars that the carriers are purchasing will allow the customer the experience of being able to see what’s on the device and see how the device interacts.”

And expect the wireless wars in the malls to heat-up, over the holidays and beyond. Between Bell Worlds, The Source by Circuit City, independent retailers and kiosks, in some malls today there are a great many places to by a phone and Gravel doesn’t see that scaling back. Compared to the U.S. and Europe, he said in Canada retail penetration is still quite low.

“I spend a lot of time in the U.S., and in the U.S. it’s even more aggressive competition in malls,” said Gravel. “They actually get physical with you because they have a lot of kiosks, and you can’t walk by one of the kiosks without a sales associate from one of the dealers bringing you in to show you their newest device.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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