Would you consider your fixed line operator a digital leader or a disruptor? Many retailers wouldn’t either, but things have started to change.

Slowly but surely retailers are becoming aware of telcos’ retail offerings and their expertise in creating connected stores and personalised shopping.

BT has opened a store concept, for which it created the designer store brand Alexander Black that uses internet connected devices and interactive screens to drive engagement and understand customer behaviour and demand.

Other telcos such as AT&T, Telefonica and Telstra are also jumping on the bandwagon with retail-specific solutions, but only a few of them offer holistic concepts.

Most are still just differentiating on fixed line broadband and phone service and slowly adding analytics, Internet of Things connected devices, and security.

Can telcos really transform into retail innovators?

Telcos still need to shrug off their traditional fixed-line image and build out retail expertise by hiring skilled consultants, developers and data scientists.

They risk getting into key partners’ territory and face a head on clash with systems integrators when competing for digital leadership in retail.

However, telcos can use their communications technology expertise and existing relationships with the largest retailers in their country as an advantage.

But they also need to move away from the network centred approach and think about improving the customer experience, retailers’ supply chain issues, and operational efficiency.

Retailers should evaluate their telco’s digital leadership capabilities beyond the ability to supply broadband connections.

While some retailers have strong IT expertise in-house or are tied into long contracts with their technology suppliers, others could benefit from their telco’s digital and vertical-focused expertise, and may be surprised by how innovative these previously state-owned utilities have become.