AT&T Opens Flagship in Chicago

Discussion
Sep 05, 2012

Borrowing heavily from the Apple Stores’ look, feel, and overall experience, AT&T on Saturday opened its first flagship store. Located on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, the store goes beyond phones and tablets to demonstrate services such as fitness applications, wireless home security and "smartcar" features.

Across the street from Coach and Cartier stores, the 10,000 square foot location is three times larger than the average of the company’s 2,300 retail outlets. With more than 100 digital screens throughout the space, every aspect of the store promises to educate customers about future wireless technologies and services.

"Customers will not only be able to interact with and purchase our products, but they will also experience the forefront of evolving wireless technology and see how AT&T is leading it," said Paul Roth, AT&T’s president of retail sales and services, in a statement.

[Image: AT&T Store, Michigan Ave]

Among the features:

  • An 18-foot high Connect Wall showing interactive content and product information, visible to the entire store and passers-by;
  • An Experience Platform allowing shoppers to test home security and automation, entertainment, music and automobile products;
  • An Explorer Lounge where shoppers play and learn about apps;
  • Lifestyle Boutiques that organize and showcase products, apps and accessories based on needs, including Get Fit, Be Productive and Share Your Life;
  • A Family Life area shows customers how to control their home using wireless devices;
  • A Street Smart area featuring a 2012 Nissan Leaf, demonstrating automotive connectivity, safety and efficiency.
  • A Chicagoland boutique showcases local apps and Chicago-themed accessories exclusive to the store.

The store has 40 employees and includes "quiet and comfortable consultation areas" akin to Apple’s Genius departments for shoppers to discuss purchases or resolve problems.

The new store comes as AT&T has lost its coveted edge as exclusive provider to Apple’s iPhone. Wireless providers are also looking to expand their offerings with subscriber gains tapering off now that nearly everyone has a cellphone. Many competitors, including industry leader Verizon, have started overhauling their stores to keep up with the trend in retail toward giving customers more access to sample devices. Microsoft and Sony have also opened branded stores although Nokia has been closing stores recently after starting its own retail chain in 2005. A 5,000-square foot "AT&T Experience" concept launched in 2007 but was soon aborted.

Lee Peterson, EVP of creative services at WD Partners and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, said the model in the space continues to be Apple.

"Gimmickry doesn’t work. Lounges don’t work," Mr. Peterson told Bloomberg News. "We try to convince clients that it’s what the salesperson knows about the customer and the product that matters."

Do you see an expanding need for showcase stores from wireless providers and even wireless device manufacturers? What’s the optimal way to bring the wireless experience to retail? How can AT&T and others differentiate their retail experience from Apple’s?

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13 Comments on "AT&T Opens Flagship in Chicago"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I saw this in person yesterday. It is a very cool store, but it is unclear exactly what a visitor is to do. The table where you can sync 30 apps is interesting, but they’re not compelling. Once it has been open awhile and knows how to use the store, I’ll return. Design is very beautiful; now how to have people engage the customer, not the customer engage the iPads?

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

While Apple makes for a nice model (as in…how cool for the customers if more retailers made their stores like that!), I see no competition between AT&T and them. If AT&T wants to build “Apple-like” stores, I say “Yay!”

AT&T enjoyed its unfair advantage (the iPhone) for 4 years. That game is over, and now people can compare apples to apples (Verizon, Sprint and others vs. AT&T). Since the perception is that Verizon has the better network, why shouldn’t AT&T find a new way to differentiate?

I think this is a trend, not just from wireless carriers, but from other brands who may have previously been one step removed from the customer. Why rely on retailers when you can get up close and personal with the customer?

Having said all of that, I’m surprised that AT&T so rarely plays up its global programs. The company far surpasses Verizon in that regard. By a mile. Both in coverage and price.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Every electronics manufacturer wants a store just like Apple’s. It’s easier said than done. AT&T, Verizon, and the other carriers are service providers, not product manufacturers. Unless they offer services that are significantly different from their competitors, they are locked into a price and quality of service battle. Between “more bars in more places” and “can you hear me now,” is there really much difference between AT&T and Verizon? Does AT&T really need a store to reach customers? They will never be Apple or offer an Apple-like experience.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
9 years 8 months ago

I like the idea (obviously it worked so well for Apple). The key is how they staff the store. The 40 employees need to be more than knowledgeable about the AT&T solutions. They need to be passionate like the Apple employees. Without the passion, it’s just another storefront that people will quickly lose interest in.

Good luck AT&T. I hope you can make the model work. I had no idea you offered solutions for fitness. I look forward to learning more on my next visit to Chicago.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

The other day I was in a Verizon store and I noticed a “class” was in session. A Verizon employee was spending hours teaching people how to operate their phones. I think when the technology needs this much showcasing, it’s time to start seriously rethinking interfaces.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Explaining a variety of wireless interfaces makes sense. However, staffing levels at AT&T stores has traditionally been too low for the number of customers. In this situation, not only does AT&T need sufficient staff, they need well trained staff members.

Reading the list, it appears as though the AT&T store is trying to do a lot of things. I hope they have a crystal clear focus on what they are trying to accomplish and how it all fits together.

Ed Dunn
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

This store appears to have a lot of cutting edge, cool, awesome digital signage and touchpoints.

The only touchpoint Apple incorporated into their store is the actual product for sale.

So the real question is, are touchpoints effective or have the AT&T concept stores gone too far with touchpoints?

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 8 months ago

When viewing the video, I thought it was endearing that AT&T found three female spokespersons who spoke Calgirlspeak, i.e., ending declarative sentences as if they were questions. Very cute.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I think experiential stores are a great way for the carriers to differentiate themselves, and add value to the customer’s purchase and user experience. But it takes a lot more than Apple-like stores and video walls. To Bob’s point, the staff needs to be engaging, passionate, and true experts on all of the products and apps.

Reminds me of visiting the Sony store in New York. Nice store with a lot of great products, and a staff that totally ignored you. (I hope that’s improved.) If you want these stores to truly be differentiated and improve the brand, invest in the people.

Lee Kent
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

‘Make your store a showcase’ is a challenge I think many retailers are trying to take on. IMHO, AT&T has made a very good first step. The next step is to make sure that the customer knows what to do there and that employees know how to engage. Kudos to them!

Gordon Arnold
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

AT&T is the most amazing company of its size and scope in the world. Their marketing and sales people never seem to get it. If they wish to compete with Apple, they need products that do the same things as good or better, not stores with big screens and a sit-down checkout.

Robert DiPietro
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Filling the void — that’s what is needed. Providers and device manufactures need to fill the void of product knowledge. Customers don’t understand the greatness of the products because they can’t find knowledgeable associates to teach them OR stores where the samples work.

This is a great way to showcase your products and unlock the hidden features and benefits.

Wireless home security, fitness, and smart car features…who knew?

Tom Redd
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

AT&T is sending a significant message by adding a Michigan Avenue address for its flagship store. They’re signaling a commitment to the idea in a very public (and $) way. Copying ideas from the Apple Store won’t automatically translate to a model of success for AT&T. Critical is the underlying sales culture — the behavior of the associates in the store and how they view the customer and the experience.

Additionally, while Apple has built a brand based on innovation and trust by designing and selling own products and a lifestyle, AT&T is coming at it from being a service provider (and the associated brand baggage) trying to be a retailer offering lifestyle possibilities. This is a high risk re-branding by AT&T fraught with challenges that may end up changing how consumers buy and use mobile/smart devices… or not.

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