Verizon’s Retail Remake

Domenico D’Ambrosio, executive director national retail operations, Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless has set itself an ambitious goal: to transform the in-store experience across its entire fleet of 1,700 company-owned stores.

In November, the company unveiled its “destination store” format, in Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn. More than about selling phones and other devices, the 9,000-sq.-ft. store is designed to help customers experience a more robust mobile life.

Designed by Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, Ohio, the Mall of America store features interactive lifestyle zones where customers can engage with specially trained associates and experience and learn about wireless gadgets, apps and tech gear in action. It features a dedicated workshop area where customers can learn about how to get the most out of a device and even take classes in front of a large touch-screen digital display.

Customers also can visit the “Customize It” zone and create colorful covers for their smartphones and personalize them with photos. A huge focal wall toward the back of the store allows customers to see themselves appear as avatar surfers, guitarists and more.

Verizon plans to open more destination stores in the next few years in strategic locations. The concept is part of a broader initiative that includes the overhaul of Verizon Wireless’ overall store portfolio, which is being revamped to the company’s “smart store” design. The core concept is similar to the destination format, with key elements fashioned for a more scalable implementation.

Domenico D’Ambrosio, executive director national retail operations for Verizon Wireless, spoke with Chain Store Age editor Marianne Wilson about the company’s new concepts and revamped retail experience.

As of May 1, how many Smart Stores are in operation?

We have over 100 Smart Stores now open across the United States, with several in various phases of construction, which will roll out soon.

Is the plan to eventually convert most of Verizon’s existing store base to the Smart Store concept?

Verizon Wireless has a goal to convert the entire fleet of 1,700-plus company-owned stores into Smart Stores.

What was the impetus for, and thinking behind, the launch of the new concept?

We are transforming the focus of our stores from selling devices to enabling customers to discover all that wireless technology can do for their mobile lifestyles.

All of our stores showcase our 4G LTE network and the various ways that wireless technology over our network can help customers do more based on their lifestyle needs, preferences and desires. It makes life easier and more fun. And from the business side, people can work smarter.

Our Destination Stores are visual playgrounds that showcase the power of our 4G LTE network around leading-edge gadgets, gear, devices and solutions.

We set the store up by Interactive Lifestyle Zones, which are designed to engage customers and introduce them to the latest wireless technology, showcasing how our portfolio of devices and accessories can enrich wireless customers’ lives.

For example, the ‘Get Fit’ zone features a working treadmill that in-store specialists will use to engage customers in a discussion about the latest wireless fitness gear.

Why did you decide to build a mock Destination Store prior to the real thing?

It allowed us to test a myriad of factors going into the whole concept, including the physical design, functionality, store flow, colors, customer friendliness and the zones before going live. We had some customers come as a focus group who were all under nondisclosures to give us their opinions. We built the store with the consumers in mind and from their input.

Is the Smart Store basically a scaled-down version of the Verizon Destination store?

Verizon Wireless Smart Stores are geared to showcase mobile lifestyles — such as fitness or music-focused lifestyles — and the devices and accessories that make these lifestyles a reality.

Smart Stores are not as fully equipped with interactive features, e.g., treadmills, music stations or life size game boards, as our Destination Stores. Smart Stores will, however, be staffed by expert, company-trained lifestyle zone specialists.

How did you decide to go with Chute Gerdeman for the store design?

We don’t discuss the rationale why we specifically work with a vendor. But I can tell you we were drawn to the experience, creativity and depth of team that Chute Gerdeman brought to the table. They listened to our needs, we listened to their counsel, and the project collaboration developed a successful launch for our Destination and Smart Stores.

What is your favorite part of the new Smart Store concept?

I like the Wireless Workshops because the customers take their knowledge to the next level. Through experience specialists, they learn that their devices can do more than they ever expected. It is truly a rewarding feeling when I watch them experience that ‘ah-ah moment.’

What do think is the main point of differentiation between Verizon stores (referring here to those with the new Smart Store elements) and other wireless stores?

While we can’t speak about what the other stores are doing, our business rationale is based on redefining the retail experience. In the past, people would come into a wireless store maybe once or twice a year with the sole purpose to upgrade their device when their contract ran out.

Our design and approach is to engage the customers with the essential elements that drive their mobile lifestyle.

What’s been the customer response so far?

It has been well received.

Based on our internal proprietary metrics, we see customers visiting more often, and spending time at the various zones. Also, the time to complete a transaction is quicker. Our Net Promoter Scores also have shown an increase too. [Net Promoter is a tool for measuring customer loyalty.] We can say that listening to our customers during our concept and focus group phase certainly helped.

How has the role of the store associate evolved with the new store concept? What type of training do store associates receive?

A good way to explain it is that we train and sell on a relationship basis versus a user’s manual approach.

The experience specialists have been trained to understand that customers have lifestyles they feel passionate about. We bring in experts from many fields, such as sports, to help sell the Get Fit products, and they share some interesting nuances with the specialists to get them to think differently and to hone in on the experience.

We also have the team train together in exercises and simulated environments so they have hands-on experience installing the products/accessories. This makes it easier for them to articulate the benefits and the ease of installation to the customer.

You joined Verizon in 1997. How has the business evolved since then?

We started off as a transactional business, and as I stated earlier, we only saw customers when they needed to upgrade their device or when their phone broke. Now they see the true value and power in their device and they come to learn about all the different things it can do. We now see customers regularly come in to check out what’s new. The best part is they are asking questions and want to learn more.

On a personal note, what’s your favorite app?

I like to listen to music, so I would say all of my music apps are my favorites. It is hard to pick just one.

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