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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Charge phone for free while you shop

Shops offer low-tech but reliable solution to chasing away the dead-battery blues
The Straits Times - February 12, 2012
By: Lim Yan Liang
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Charge phone for free while you shop A mobile phone charging station at the Topshop/Topman retail outlet at Ion Orchard. -- ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Running out of battery juice is a surefire way to trigger a dreaded 21st-century affliction: nomophobia, or the fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

But savvy organisations here have found a relatively low-tech but reliable solution to chasing away the dead-battery blues: by installing mobile phone charging stations.

At fashion brands Topshop and Warehouse, customers in need of an emergency injection of cellular power are ushered towards a slim tower at a corner of the store labelled 'Free Phone Charging'. Painted a sleek white, the kiosk has 10 lock-and-key cubbyholes that emanate a soft white glow behind a frosted glass window.

'Customers were surprised and delighted to discover this service,' said a spokesman for Wing Tai Retail, which runs these brands here. 'The sole objective is to improve the customers' in-store shopping experience.' The kiosks have been available at six selected outlets since July last year.

Besides retail outlets, some shopping malls are offering complimentary phone charging services to mobile-addicted shoppers.

Shoppers at Ion Orchard can approach the mall's different concierge counters to borrow portable batteries for major smartphone brands. At City Square Mall, charging stations can be found at the customer service counter.

'As our core audience includes young families and office workers who are very often on-the-go, they often find the short battery life of their smartphones a hassle,' said a spokesman for City Square Mall. 'We try to offer solutions to help our shoppers stay connected.'

The idea itself is not new. At Changi Airport, there are three such stations at Terminals 1 to 3, and one at the Budget Terminal. The charging stations, a lifeline to international travellers since 2009, themselves replaced an earlier batch of kiosks that were installed in 2008.

According to a Changi Airport Group spokesman, the stations charge phones from the major brands, and also consoles such as the Playstation Portable and Nintendo DS.

'The facility is very well-utilised, especially during peak hours at the airport,' she said.

Overseas, charging kiosks have been around since 2006, when they started sprouting up in bars, restaurants, hotels and even casinos in the United States and Britain. Unlike local offerings, which tend to be free, kiosks offered by vendors such as New York-based GoCharge and UK-based ChargeBox charge a small fee.

Kiosk operators overseas are also innovating in this space: Last month, American start-up Juicebox began offering a version that uses a customer's credit card instead of a physical key. Its kiosks also recognise each charging phone's unique device code so customers can open their lockers to check messages without having to pay a new fee.

As evidence that power-hungry smartphones have invaded the corporate world, the local office of accounting giant Ernst & Young installed such a charging station at its reception counter in November last year.

'It's a complimentary service for our clients,' said an executive with the marketing department. 'This way, they can charge their phones while they are having a meeting.'

While charging kiosks seems to be a good idea at venues with a captive audience, checks with salons and food court operators revealed that most have no plans to offer such a service.

But furniture and electronics retailer Courts said it plans to introduce the service at its retail outlets this year.

'For today's consumers, a mobile phone is more than just a device to make phone calls. It is an essential lifestyle tool for all types of communications and entertainment on the move,' said Ms Jesmine Loh, head of corporate communications with Courts.

'This new service will most definitely prove to be highly convenient and beneficial to our customers.'

 

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