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Vodafone will shut 15% of its 7,700 stores and upgrade some of the remaining outlets as customers buy more online and change their expectations of in-store shopping, chief executive Nick Read said on Tuesday. The group will overhaul its store estate using data to give insight into what customers want in each location, with 40% of the stores transformed by the end of 2021, Read said.

Around 5,000 of Vodafone's stores are in Europe, with the remainder in markets such as Asia and Africa. Customer service offered by Apple and Amazon had changed expectations, and Vodafone hopes to improve its services faster than former incumbent rivals like BT, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica with targeted and personalised marketing, he said.

"If you believe that 40% of your transactions are going to be digital, then how does that impact why someone goes to a store. The journeys and the purpose of the store changes," Read told reporters at a briefing in Duesseldorf, Germany.

Read said the group would use new technology such as its AI-powered chatbot to help customers buy products and services in just three clicks. Vodafone, the world's second largest mobile operator, however, plans to continue store openings in of Britain. In September, it announced plans to open 24 new franchise stores in Britain this year, and it is examining the possibility of opening 50 more stores in 2020 in conjunction with new online services.

Copyright Reuters, 2019

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