Stronger Footing: Maps Deliver Wireless Market Intelligence

By Understanding Customers and Competition, U.S. Cellular Sets Up Shop in the Right Locations

U.S. Cellular is the United States’ fifth-largest full-service wireless carrier, with nearly five million customers nationwide. Company revenue approaches $4.8 billion per year, and 99 percent of all customers can access 4G LTE speeds.

Delivering these competitive services requires a strong retail footprint. Therefore, in 2012, U.S. Cellular embarked on a retail store expansion program designed to grow the carrier’s customer base. To maximize the return on this investment, U.S. Cellular would select store locations based on consumer shopping patterns. That year, the company hired its first subject matter expert in location analytics. Chris Washebek joined U.S. Cellular’s Footprint Planning team as manager of retail location analysis.

Footprint Mapping from Scratch

Washebek established the company’s first research program for retail location analysis based on the ArcGIS platform from Esri. The platform would soon become a critical tool for the carrier to better understand customer needs and design a stronger retail footprint.

Washebek’s initial step in implementing the Esri ArcGIS platform at U.S. Cellular was to map information layers with trade areas and customer, performance, and competitor data. The maps show the geographic placement of sales opportunities in relation to the company’s stores and competitors. With this intelligence in hand, the Footprint Planning team can see both what the competition looks like in specific markets and the company’s upside potential.

“Using Esri demographics and our own performance data, we can compare competitor information and forecast sales with in-depth insights,” Washebek said. “With this information, we can provide accurate and insightful recommendations to sales leaders and executives.”

Mobilizing Insights

After initial implementation, ArcGIS became U.S. Cellular’s primary tool for identifying optimal locations for new stores. The tool was also helpful in identifying better locations for existing stores. Insights derived from the map layers help the team prioritize smarter locations to increase the company’s customer base.

“ArcGIS gives us a unique capability to manage which projects are most vital to the business,” Washebek said.

The Footprint Planning team shares its findings with company executives, who like what they see.

“They’ve seen the maps and insights and are asking for more and more,” Washebek said.

Today, two years after deploying ArcGIS, U.S. Cellular’s Footprint Planning team has grown. Washebek and several colleagues now provide strategic guidance to sales leaders and company executives. These national and local recommendations drive the company’s retail store location planning.

“We can offer a 50,000-foot view of company performance and, after localizing the data, can develop competitive strategies at the market and store levels,” Washebek said. “Information like this is increasingly valuable to the company.”

More Ways to Add Value

The Footprint Planning team continues to find more ways to support additional departments with ArcGIS. One project explored the spatial or location value of multiple business lines, such as territory analysis for the business-to-business (B2B) channel. The U.S. Cellular’s Real Estate department can now access maps on web browsers and mobile devices, allowing colleagues to assess new store sites from the field.

Looking ahead, Washebek expects even greater use of the ArcGIS platform as new capabilities become available. The Footprint Planning team is already sharing the technology capabilities with primary stakeholders and sister companies, such as TDS Telecom.

“It’s not just our colleagues who interface with Esri technology directly,” Washebek said. “Even people who aren’t using maps are using data derived from GIS [geographic information systems].” Learn more about GIS for telecommunications at esri.com/telecom.

“Using Esri technology, we were able to create store-specific customer trade areas and highlight opportunities for better placement of our retail stores.”— U.S. Cellular Footprint Planning Staff, 2014

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