November 13, 2020

Mobile operators’ retail stores provide an essential service and should remain open during lockdown

COVID, Mobile, England

With England now in lockdown, keeping people connected to their mobile and broadband services is once again a top priority. Under the current lockdown restrictions in England, though, customers are unable to enter the mobile operators’ retail stores. As a result, it is estimated that around 1 million customer service enquiries will go unresolved – just over 30,000 per day - over the four-week period.

We fully understand the Government has difficult decisions to take. And the industry will continue to do all we can to support its response to Covid-19.

In other countries, though, with similar COVID crises (including Italy, Ireland, Spain, France and Austria), telecommunications is considered an essential service and mobile retail stores remain open, in the same way that off-licences, banks, hardware stores, garages and dentists, among others, do in England.

Day to day, the mobile operators’ stores play a vital role in keeping millions of customers connected - in normal times, not just during the pandemic. Their stores are uniquely well-placed to offer the space, time, and expertise to deliver the in-person support that customers very often need.

Between them, the mobile operators have over 1,500 stores on England’s high streets. While some are now supporting a click and collect service, all are closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions now in place.

This means that those one million issues (i.e. over and above those which people manage to get sorted out on the phone or on-line) will go unresolved. For example, customers will be unable to get instant sim replacements to keep them connected, if their sim card stops working; receive immediate device ‘diagnostics and fix’ if the software malfunctions, or even get instant trade-in credit for an old device for those financially vulnerable customers who need to upgrade (Note: the Track and Trace app does not work on some of the older handsets, making upgrades important to its national effectiveness).

With around one in five UK households now being ‘mobile-only’, many of these customers will struggle to get back online quickly at a time when remaining digitally connected has never been more important.

The stores are particularly important in supporting vulnerable customers.  Since re-opening earlier in the year, there has been an increase in vulnerable customer visits across our retail stores.  These are customers requiring personal service and include:

  • Elderly customers who have low or no digital literacy.  For example, for the 55+ age group, our experience shows that more than 50% of them prefer to use stores, with less than 20% comfortable using online services or call centres to get a new device.
  • Customers dealing with recent bereavement or in financial difficulty.

Operators have invested heavily over the past months in ensuring their stores are safe environments for their staff to work and customers to visit.

Mobile operators retail stores provide an essential service. The Government must designate them as such. Let us keep our customers safe and connected.

About Building Mobile Britain

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Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.

See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain

Media Contacts

Gareth Elliott
Head of Policy and Communications
Tel: 07887 911 076

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