Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

VODACOM, South Africa’s largest wireless carrier, is revamping its retail stores to offer services similar to those popularised by Apple.

Consumers will be able to test products such as cellphones and tablets and consult technicians at support stations comparable to Cupertino, California-based Apple’s Genius Bar, according to Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub.

The company is testing the project at three outlets before expanding to more of its 270 stores in the country.

Shopping at Vodacom would "be more closely aligned to the Apple experience than a normal transactional experience that we have today", Mr Joosub, who took over as CEO this month, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Johannesburg.

Vodacom, which is 65%-owned by Vodafone Group, is seeking ways to expand its business after local mobile sales fell in the last quarter of last year. Mobile voice revenue, which accounts for about half the company’s South African sales, slipped 2.3% to R7.6bn in the quarter. Mobile messaging dropped 5.6%.

"It is operators looking for other things than price to compete on," Avior Research analyst David Lerche said. "They’d both rather compete on quality and marketing than on price. There’s price pressure coming from Cell C as well as 8ta and Telkom Mobile."

Vodacom is becoming increasingly important for its parent as Vodafone struggles to halt a slide in its European business. Vodacom surpassed Vodafone’s UK unit in 2010 by profit, and outpaced the Spanish division the following year.

Mr Joosub was appointed head of Vodafone’s Spanish business in 2010. In July last year, he was named successor to Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys, who resigned after four years.

Vodacom also sells services in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. South Africa accounted for about 85% of its revenue last quarter.

The company’s shares have trailed those of MTN Group. They were little changed in the past 12 months, while MTN, Africa’s largest cellphone network operator, gained 23%.

Vodacom shares, which have fallen about 12% this year, were trading at R10.90 on Wednesday morning in Johannesburg, valuing the company at R162bn.

"We’ll be focusing on the root-cause problem. We’re trying to ensure that we have clear differentiation when we compare our store with our competitors," Mr Joosub said last week.

An in-store advisory service could help remedy existing phone support that shopper Clinton Hawley called "inadequate".

The wireless-service provider has about 270 stores in S A, including those operated by franchises, while MTN operates about 450 stores including franchises, according to MTN spokeswoman Matebello Motloung.

Apple, which has a market value of about $400bn, does not have retail stores in Africa, according to its website, though products are sold through a reseller network.

Bloomberg