Two years ago AT&T’s President of Retail, Paul Roth, set out to redesign over 2,300 AT&T retail stores throughout North America. According to Retail Customer Experience, his approach was to create store experiences that are about personalized service and educating the shopper.
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The redesign caters to exactly that purpose. The new AT&T stores offer learning tables that facilitate an intimate and personalized conversation between a customer and a store agent. This should encourage education and a more intense, direct interaction. Store agents help customers to set up their devices, they explain and demonstrate new features of smartphones and tablets, help facilitate any returns, exchanges, or hardware replacements in case of a problem, and ensure the customer can make an informed decision in purchasing a new product. Experience zones let customers try products in a connected context; for example smartphones are paired with different speaker options, allowing potential purchasers to hear the differences between smartphones and test out their Bluetooth connection speeds.
AT&T’s initiative ties into a new trend of redefining in-store retail. This trend is especially important for product categories such as electronic devices and other technologies that require a higher level of customer support before and after purchase. Remember that smartphones and tablets are still new to many people – and they can be complex. “There needs to be a place to discover them and to learn how to get the most out of them”, said Apple CEO Tim Cook on the fringe of a product demonstration last year in San Jose. Apple Stores are probably the best known retail innovation of the last decade. Today, Apple has the most profitable retail stores in the world.
A cornerstone of Apple’s retail concept is the Genius Bar that provides technical support for Apple products. Ron Johnson, Apple’s former Retail Head, has often referred to the Genius Bar as the “heart and soul of our stores.” According to a study by NPD Group, nine of ten Apple customers are more likely to make another Apple purchase following their support experience at Genius Bar – it is now a major success story despite some challenges in the beginning. “Nobody came to the Genius Bars during those first years. I remember going into a store one evening, and no geniuses were on duty. I asked what happened, and the manager told me that there were no customers, and so they sent the genius home,” explained Johnson in an interview with Harvard Business Review. “But despite that, I had a belief—a conviction—that face-to-face support was going to be much better for customers than phone and web support, which are often really frustrating and ineffective. So we stuck with it, and gradually customers started coming. Three years later the Genius Bars were so popular that we had to set up a reservation system to manage the demand.”