Get ready for a lot more wireless stores.
RadioShack plans to open "Bullseye Mobile" shops inside most of the 1,700 Target stores within a year. Best Buy Mobile opens new storefronts in Westfield Citrus Park and Countryside malls in two weeks, with a goal of getting in all eight high-traffic malls in the Tampa Bay area soon. Verizon Wireless just inked a deal to set up shop inside all 21 HHGregg electronics stores in Florida by the end of the year.
Why the land rush? Growing acceptance of smart phones and retailers' newfound ability to mix and match carriers with a phone of your choice unleashed a stampede among big box stores pursuing mobile business wherever it lies.
"We want to be where the customer is," said Chuck Hamby, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, which already augmented two dozen of its own stores by moving into BJ's Wholesale Club while RadioShack claimed kiosk space at Sam's Club.
What might appear sudden has evolved over a few years since local mall mangers fretted that too many independent cell phone kiosks were hogging up too much of their rented center aisle kiosk space. That's because precious few mall storefront chains or big box stores offered to sell cell phone service.
"For too long, big box retailers like us didn't do wireless very well," said Shawn Score, president Best Buy Mobile, based in Richfield, Minn. "But today the customer expects us to excel in that space. And the customer today prefers choices."
Forces shaping the market: the number of wireless carriers that control 99 percent of the market shrinking to four, compelling smart phones and more broadband content.
Today there are about 8,000 kiosks and storefronts peddling single-carrier service contracts while the shift to a wider selection has grown to about 4,500, most of them RadioShacks.
Best Buy learned the business from a handful of its own Mobile stores in New York and the 2007 purchase of 50 percent of Carphone Warehouse, the biggest cell phone retailer in the United Kingdom and 2,400 stores in Europe.
The keys are staffers who earn no incentives from the brands or carriers, setup before the customer leaves and repair and warranties including phone unlocking service that usually is free.
The typical Best Buy Mobile is a bit smaller than a RadioShack. It stocks 100 phone choices, four carriers, up to 20 laptops or tablets and 200 accessories.
"We see the smart phone becoming the center of connectivity linking all three types of screens in your home," said Score, whose chain plans to double in size to 200 stores by this winter.
Best Buy does not flinch at putting its Mobile stores across the street from its full-line stores.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.