4 Truths Behind The Giant Apple Store Lines

In the era where most retailers are investing in line-busting technologies to reduce the idle time spent in the buying process, Apple is making sure the lines at their brick-and-mortar locations do not disappear.  Business Insider explains 4 reasons why Apple uses long lines as a marketing strategy tactic:

1) Lines have been part of Apple’s marketing strategy for some time

Over three years ago, people joined long lines to buy the iPad 2 at Apple stores around the world. These lines were even longer than those for the original iPad. In fact, they were longer than expected. What many don’t know is that Apple orchestrated these lines by not allowing pre-orders. They did not want a reoccurrence of short lines at Verizon stores when the Verizon iPhone was introduced.

2) Competitors making fun of the lines are only helping to promote Apple products

Competitors, such as Samsung and Microsoft, are drawn into the “Apple trap” by disparaging the waiting lines in their commercials. What they don’t realize is that disparaging competitors only gives them free brand impressions and free advertising — helping them to sell their products. Here are some of the many reasons why.

  • Free advertising
  • No reasons to buy your product
  • When you “put down” popular products, you are putting down the people that like them
  • Makes you look arrogant and insecure at the same time.
  • Puts a target on your back

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3) The lines are forming, even if not spontaneously

While the early people in line for Apple products may have an agenda, the lines are already forming and growing. So are Apple’s profits. In spite of a smaller market share than its smartphone competitors, Apple still commands 60% of the profits. As Apple increases its distribution around the globe, its market share is likely to grow too. Many forget that when the iPhone was introduced only one major mobile phone service provider — ATT — sold the iPhone. The other big players in the US have been added in recent years and new deals with China Mobile and others around the world are expected to follow. This is likely to help Apple’s global market share.

4) It’s a great way to do marketing

As Apple has shown, lines are a great way to do marketing. When combined with the brand advantage of uniqueness built into all Apple products, these lines are likely to keep the Apple profit machine going for the foreseeable future. Of course, Apple will have to keep innovating. If it fails to do so, it could open the way for more innovative rivals to build a beachhead that eats into its share of the market and profits. Stay tuned. No matter what happens, it will be interesting.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/if-you-think-apple-lines-are-spontaneous-think-again-2014-9#ixzz3CpjezcU7

AT&T to lead a retail revolution with their ‘lab’ stores

*Images posted belong to CNET*

AT&T has a vision for the future of phone shopping, but the vision does not stop at their handsets or phone plans. Over the past several years the carrier has been reinventing the store experience.

CNET, a leader in tech product reviews, sat down with AT&T’s retail president, Paul Roth, for a discussion around their retail strategies.  AT&T’s secretive and very effective approach has lead the carrier to be one of America’s most admirable, profitable, and recognized brands.

In the article, AT&T’s vision is simple: tout the benefits of connected devices and services through “experiences”. In order to provide these “experiences” AT&T calls on their ‘lab’ stores to lead the revolution. Paul Roth and his team works in these ‘labs’ to dabble with store details from layouts to fixtures. Most importantly the ‘lab’ stores are used to determine the order and placement of products. The use of sophisticated technologies place products, POP and accessories based on the carrier’s brand strategy, product priority, store attributes and other data sets. A retail initiative, AT&T feels is important given the exclusive range of gadgets only offered through AT&T.

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Merchandisingmatters posted the full CNET article in it’s entirety below:

ATLANTA — AT&T wants its stores to earn the same reputation for quality as the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, which prides itself on offering five-star service.

That goal would have been laughable less than two years ago, when Consumer Reports called AT&T the worst wireless provider in the country. But more recently, AT&T has climbed atop many industry satisfaction surveys and has garnered accolades such as a J.D. Power award for top customer service among wireless carriers.

Part of AT&T’s secret: a radical shift in the way that the carrier — and its retail president, Paul Roth — approaches its stores.

Instead of just selling handsets and phone plans, Roth wants AT&T’s 2,000 retail outlets to tout the benefits of connected devices and services through “experiences.” And Roth has at his disposal a number of “lab” stores where he and his team get to tinker with store details from layouts to fixtures, including something as minor as whether the base of podium should be white or chrome.

“We’re maniacal about that,” he said in a March interview with CNET.

The attention to detail comes as AT&T, like rival Verizon Wireless, works to revamp its retail stores and the industry as a whole grapples with a maturing smartphone market and declines in the percentage of phones actually sold at carrier stores.

While a majority of the 27.4 million smartphones it sold last year were purchased at an AT&T store, the company wants to further goose sales growth by pushing other Internet-connected gadgets, such as smartwatches and tablets.

For consumers, this means the conversation switches from which phone you want to buy to how a phone, watch, home, and car could work together to make your life easier. It isn’t simply about picking up a phone and paying for it; it’s about having a salesperson walk through different products and services, Roth says.

“Retailers are trying to find ways to add value to the transaction and turn it more into an interaction,” said NPD analyst Stephen Baker.

Minding The Store

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That may be, as Baker notes, a common approach in the consumer electronics industry, but it’s definitely a different way of thinking for AT&T.

The transformation of its retail strategy came after AT&T asked itself a simple question: Does retail exist in the future?

“The answer is yes, but it’s very different,” Roth said.

It’s a question likely on minds across the industry. In the 12 months that ended in February, 61 percent of all smartphones sold were purchased through a carrier store, down from 69 percent two years ago, according to NPD. Baker said he expects the decline to continue this year as consumers shop more online and at large retail chains such as Walmart, which sell prepaid phone services.

Countering that trend is its family of lab stores, one of which is located in the lobby of AT&T Mobility’s headquarters here. At first glance, it looks like any typical carrier store in a shopping mall.

And on Mondays, such as the one on which I visited, it acts as a functioning store with inventory and cash — the exception being that all the customers are AT&T corporate employees.

The rest of the week, the retail team tests out different ideas, or tweaks the look of displays, often behind closed curtains.

Roth, who has run the retail group for more than five years, was eager to share details about the new concept store. The glass entrance, for instance, is framed with orange, a call back to the hipper, younger vibe of Cingular, which was rebranded to AT&T after a series of mergers between regional telcos.

For the store, Roth and his team opted to remove the AT&T name, sticking with the blue globe logo unveiled in 2007. They believe that symbol is recognizable enough to stand alone now. The store is highlighted with reclaimed teak, borrowing a touch from Starbucks, alongside splashes of orange and white.

We wanted something to feel surprising, but familiar,” he said.

Inside the 2,900-square foot space were “experience” areas, such as a round table ringed by music accessories, all surrounding a guitar centerpiece. A miniature drive-in theater helped demonstrate a mini projector that can be hooked up to your smartphone. Roth said that AT&T hired someone from Nike to help choose the props used to “better tell a story.” (The company declined to name the individual).

At the back of the store was a demonstration of AT&T’s U-Verse home Internet and TV service, as well as its Digital Life connected home business, which allows you to remotely control things like your door locks or lights via a smartphone or tablet. Against one wall was the carrier’s full phone lineup. A few smaller circular bar tables in the center of the store provided a place for employees to talk over the devices with their customers.

What you won’t find: cash registers or sales counters.

It’s part of AT&T and Roth’s plan to improve the retail experience by making it less about the transaction, and more about providing customers with relevant information before and after their purchases.

AT&T isn’t alone in this strategy. Verizon in November unveiled a large “destination store” in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and has been opening a number of smaller “smart stores” in select locations throughout the US focusing more on experiences and a higher level of service.

The latest incarnation of AT&T’s store, dubbed the “Store of the Future” concept, debuted at this lab in July and then went public in August. Since then, AT&T has opened or renovated 15 stores to carry that look and feel. Other design elements, like the removal of cash registers and counters in favor of mobile iPad checkout systems, have made their way to other stores (a retail tactic copied from Apple).

The order and placement of the products you see at your local AT&T shop? Roth likely determined all of that at the lab store.

The plans is to roll out the Future Store concept to all of AT&T’s stores, though Roth didn’t give a time frame for when that would happen.

Attitude vs. Aptitude

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Many of the changes were in play as far back as five years ago, when AT&T opened up the lab stores to figure out what worked in retail. Today, there are multiple facilities, including one in Milwaukee, and another Arlington Heights, Ill., equipped with heat sensors on the ceiling to determine traffic patterns. AT&T’s flagship store on Chicago’s famed Magnificent Mile started showing off some of the new retail elements in August 2012.

Shortly after taking over in the retail group in November 2008, Roth began hiring employees not just for their technical aptitude, but also their sales attitude. In the world of retail, that seems like a no-brainer, but AT&T was just getting started with its transformation.

Where Ritz-Carlton has its “greenbook” guide for quality service, AT&T hands out a little blue book titled “Our Retail Promise” to store employees. The book includes reminders like giving a “warm, friendly, and genuine” greeting to customers as they walk in the door and answering all of the customers’ questions before they leave the store.

Roth pointed to two “hero” tables where AT&T highlights marquee products. One of those tables is always reserved for Apple and its iPhone and iPad lineup (“Apple has been a good partner to us,” he says.) The other table offers a display for Beats Music, a mobile streaming service that launched in February that’s exclusively tied to AT&T’s wireless service.

What gets highlighted on that one hero table is entirely up to AT&T, Roth said. He noted that handset manufacturers have tried to buy out the marquee shelf space, but AT&T has declined.

“The store is not for sale,” he said.

Even as the elements of the lab store continue to trickle down through AT&T’s retail network, Roth continues to tinker with the look, including figuring out that podium base. (It’s currently a dull chrome, but he says he plans on playing around with it).

In April, the store will start showing phones with the Isis mobile payment service downloaded onto the device. Isis, a joint venture between AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, was created with the intent of turning your phone into a wallet. Isis is a big priority for the company, with AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega calling it a significant driver of growth in the future.

Roth said he sees a chunk of the store eventually dedicated to the cellular-connected car. In addition, more of the store space will be devoted to apps and experiences tied to your mobile device. The reason is simple: “It’s all pushing the concept that the phone is a remote control for your life.”

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Retailers rethinking store designs with mobile in mind

For years, Apple’s retail stores were seen as the zenith of the retail experience. Brick-and-mortar shoppers evolved to demand inspiration from their favorites stores, finding products that fit into their life seamlessly. As we recently posted, this trend extends to many other major retailers including AT&T.

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According to Mobile Marketer, the influence of mobile can be seen as a major driving force in the design or redesign of retail stores. Shoppers are used to being able to shop for anything they want, when they want, and the that experience now translates to the storefront.

From the article:

In the past, stores were designed with departments and aisles to influence shopper behavior with an eye toward encouraging shoppers to view as many products as possible and add more items to their baskets.

However, increasingly retailers are looking at eliminating departments and creating more open retail spaces populated with thematic zones.

For example, AT&T recently unveiled a new store format intended to reflect customers’ mobile lifestyle where café-style learning tables replace cash registers.

The store layout highlights products and services in three different thematic areas. In the Connected Experience, shoppers can see how solutions can be used in their everyday lives. The Community Zone features an open and interactive space where customers can test products. In the Explore Zone, there are digital monitors to highlight AT&T’s lineup.

Thomson, a British travel agency, with multiple locations also recently unveiled a new store format also focused on enabling more hands-on experiences where associates and customers work together more closely. It includes interactive tables where customers can research holidays.

The customer-facing interface uses advanced touch and transition elements to make it feel like an app.

Social media feeds are streamed onto the screens to inspire customers and give them a feel of what to expect from a vacation.

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Lessons from AT&T’s Store Designs

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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From the article:

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.”

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AT&T Has Created A Great In-Store Experience

On Chicago’s Magnificent Mile one store has made a big impact on an already flashy stretch of road. AT&T’s new retail concept goes way beyond cell phones. According to RIS News, their Chicago flagship features concept products that the company plans to roll out nationwide.

AT&T Store, Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Shopper Marketing

As if their 2,300 retail stores weren’t proof enough that they are committed to their brick-and-mortar strategy, their latest concept store marks a decisive effort to push their in-store experience beyond what has existed for the last 100 years.

From the article:

In addition to the products and services found at AT&T stores nationwide, the Michigan Avenue store includes AT&T Digital Life home security and automation services and a Connected Car that shows how wireless technology can aid driving. Customers can also find exclusive accessories by Chicago-area artists and other products unique to the Windy City.

With 130 digital screens throughout the space, every aspect of the store is designed to educate customers about future wireless technologies and services. In the store, customers can find a multitude of experiences including:

  • The Explorer Lounge to play and learn about apps that interest them.
  • The App Bar where “app-tenders” serve up one-on-one or group demos, which are also displayed on multiple video monitors on the Apps Wall.
  • An 18-foot-high Connect Wall that shows interactive content and product information visible to the entire store and passers-by.
  • Products, apps and accessories organized by needs in the Lifestyle Boutiques, including Get Fit, Be Productive, Share Your Life and Chicagoland.
  • The Experience Platform, where customers can interact with AT&T products for home security and automation, entertainment, music and automobiles.

“We used to sell phones,” says Roth. “Now we shifted to offer solutions. No one likes to be sold, but everyone likes to buy.”

AT&T Looks to Dial Up New Ideas at Chicago-Area Concept Store

With 2,300 stores, AT&T is already one of the largest retailers in the United States.

Now it wants to be one a better one.

As part of that effort, the company has spent months studying some of the most successful names in the customer service business and coming up with new ideas on how to better sell and support cellphones, Internet service and other products.

To test out the ideas, the company on Saturday is opening a new concept retail store in suburban Chicago. At more than 10,000 square feet, the store is twice as large as the company’s typical locations and sports, among other things, two giant interactive touchscreen walls.

“We really do see our retail stores as an opportunity to differentiate the AT&T experience,” AT&T retail president Paul Roth told AllThingsD. The store is one of two concept stores, though the other, inside AT&T’s headquarters in Atlanta, is only open to employees.

One of the big things AT&T has done is get rid of an entire row of cash register terminals that both took up a lot of space and put a computer monitor between AT&T’s staff and its cutstomers. Instead, AT&T will use a combination of iPads and iPhones to handle some of the store’s transactions.

With all the carriers running faster networks and more phones resembling powerful but similar-looking blocks of glass, Roth said that the retail experience could well be the key differentiator for carriers looking to stand out from one another. (That said, I’m sure if I talked to the head of networks they would say the networks are the difference maker, while the head of devices would point to the company’s product lineup.)

AT&T is also looking for a home for the many new kinds of devices that are selling with either short-range wireless technologies or a built-in cellular modem. The company already sells products such as Jawbone’s Jambox. By early next year, Roth said, an entire section of the concept store will be devoted to showing such “emerging devices” in action.

The store has wide glass windows, designed to show off what is inside the store, rather than a bunch of posters touting the latest promotions.

“You wont see us plaster the windows like a Nascar, which I’ve done before,” Roth said.

And, as much as Roth is trying to show off lots of new technology, a key design goal of the stores is to have lots of open area. Roth took that notion so far that the company’s financial chief questioned the decision and worried that the company was wasting space. Roth explained that the open layout was designed to appeal to women, who typically spend more time weighing their purchases in the store.

“We still have a grab-and-go capability for the Neanderthal male customers,” Roth joked.

Other features in the store include barstool-style seats and tables to try out the latest devices and services as well as a spot to get in-store support for devices and software.

“The name ‘Genius Bar’ was already taken, but that’s what it is,” Roth said.

Roth knows that not all of the ideas in Arlington Heights will succeed, but the goal is to quickly find out how well they resonate.

“Everything in this store is designed to scale or fail,” he said. For example, a couple years back, AT&T tried installing Microsoft’s pricey surface tabletop computers. “We thought they were really cool, but consumers didn’t think they were that cool,” Roth said.

[via All Things D]