AT&T unveiled a new 10,000 square foot retail store today on Chicago's famous Magnificent Mile. With this store, CNET's Lance Whitney wrote that AT&T "adopted the Apple philosophy in focusing on the consumer and not just on selling products."
On the imitating Apple part, Paul Roth, AT&T’s president of retail sales and services, disagrees. “We are very different than Apple,” he said in an interview. “In their stores, the product is the hero. This store is all about the experience.”
Focusing on the experience is smart move from a carrier's perspective. Apple has done an amazing job in addressing customer needs in a scalable way, but their products are very tangible, more concrete.
Carriers' services (and reputations) need a boost with a positive, next level experience, and this is what AT&T has created. This store is a fusion of the transaction place, local attraction, public space and a discovery centre. I would say that for all of its target demographics, it is quite appealing. Have a look at AT&T's launch video for the store, below:
I'm personally impressed because, based on the video and the few articles and photos I've seen of the store, it is a true representation of a next-gen retail place.
Despite the fact that this is a flagship store, and not fully scalable, AT&T has done a number of small design choices that are great takeaways for retailers. We have covered majority of those in our 5 Checkpoints for Next-Gen Stores, so this is how I feel about what AT&T has done:
- Online In-Store: The online information is present everywhere including the 18-foot high Connect Wall that shows interactive content and product information, visible to the entire store and passers-by. Online in-store? Check.
- Checkout Anywhere: Apparently the store has 40 employees with as many as 30 on the sales floor at one time. Still, there are no cash registers, just staff using tablets or smartphones to make sales. Checkout anywhere? Check.
- Relationship: Human relationships have always been the key to long-term customer engagement. Paul Roth (as reported by Bloomberg) "is requiring sales staff to greet visitors within 10 seconds or 10 feet after they’ve entered the store, to make them welcome without shadowing them." This is really important first step based on a proven best practice. What is even more important is the "… without shadowing them" part. This indicates the intent of being a good host rather than a pushy salesperson bent on a commission. In addition, experienced staff in their own field will help customers here, such as a photojournalist introducing shoppers to photography peripherals. A certified personal trainer will be discussing Fitbits and tablet connectivity. So, it's a good start for building a rapport with customers. Relationships? Check.
- In-Store Edutainment: There are App Corners to deliver the latest and greatest in apps for all mobile platforms. There is a small tower of LCDs that allows customers to play head-to-head, Kinect-style motion games. There are various sections of the store that provide either entertainment or education about AT&T products and services and the best ways of using them. Even if some of the stations do not educate directly, the experience adds to existing AT&T brand awareness. In-store edutainment? Check.
- Social Hub and Community Creation: This store is quite Chicago-centric, which is great. Somebody in this domain is finally acknowledging the fact that the store is located in a specific city. The Chicagoland area of the store includes local apps and Chicago-themed accessories exclusive to the AT&T Michigan Avenue store. There are local artists Cody Hudson and Dalek's pieces featured in the The Gallery. The stage doubles as a place for both product announcements and presentations from local app developers. That area is just an iPhone’s throw away from a (shorter) electronics table featuring apps and gadgets for kids.
For the social interaction to occur, you need to offer a nice and comfortable venue. AT&T has certainly done a great job in creating a visually stunning environment. However, there also are many subtle elements that work on a subliminal level. Use of the reclaimed wood is not only a politically green decision, but driven by the scientifically proven fact that the wood is the number-one biophilic material for maximizing human comfort. Use of indirect, cove lighting also adds to the comfort factor. When people feel comfortable and are offered a number of engaging and contextual activities in a space, they are more inclined to socialize and to be more open to influences -- not to mention to make purchaeses. There was even study last year about how relaxation increases monetary valuation. I would add to that increased brand awareness as well. Social Hub? Check.
The take-home message here for wireless retailers: I already said that this is a flagship store, not a regular store. But rather than relying on visuals or high-tech bells and whistles, AT&T has covered the important principles here correctly. Thinking of how to make a customer feel relaxed in this space is critical; how to offer contextual educational and entertaining activities; how to be location (Chicago) relevant; how to be flexible with the use space -- and how all of these impressions can lead to repeat visits and repeat business. This is the arsenal of weapons that can help brick-and-mortar fight against online retailers.