News

AT&T Store Design Gets a Customer-Focused Reboot

BY Marianne Wilson

It’s not what you see as much as what you don’t see that defines AT&T’s new store concept.

Noticeably missing from the prototype, which debuted in La Grange, Ill., are traditional counters, checkout registers and printed signage. Instead, the 3,200-sq.-ft. store offers an inviting, modern and interactive environment that is focused on the customer experience.

“From the open floor plan to learning and community tables where customers can play and explore, every element of our new store concept was made with our customers in mind — and the experience we wanted them to have once inside,” explained Paul Roth, AT&T president of retail sales and services, AT&T, in a blog post about the new design.

Conventional counters have been replaced by café-style tables where customers can sit with store associates. And checkouts have been replaced with a mobile point-of-sale system that allows associates to help customers anywhere in the store.

“We’ve tossed out the traditional sales stations and equipped our consultants with tablets,” Roth wrote. “This allows us to help customers from anywhere in the store. We are turning what used to be over-the-counter transactions into side-by-side interactions. If a customer requires some one-on-one time for more complex questions, we help them in the Solutions Center, which is designed to allow our consultants to have sit-down conversations with customers.”

In place of window banners, product brochures and other printed promotional materials, the store uses high-definition digital screens for engagement, education and brand content delivery. The screens are intended to immerse the customer in a sensory experience, even before they walk inside the space, while providing AT&T with the ultimate in merchandising flexibility.

“From information on the latest promotion to the hottest product or service, the screens can be updated with the push of a button,” Roth explained.

In addition to the screens, E-brochures of product and service information are displayed on tablets. The digital focus extends beyond the customers: Mobile planograms show employees how and where to stock shelves and pegs, allowing for real-time updates as well as a reduction in paper.

The new format will be rolled out to new and redesigned company-owned stores across the country, starting in the greater Cincinnati area. Designed to bring to life AT&T’s mission and brand vision while helping customers better understand technology, it incorporates many elements — scaled back for a smaller space — from the AT&T flagship on Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue. These include a palette that blends warm woods with glossy-white, high-tech finishes and bold accents in the brand’s signature orange hue.

Other key elements of the design include the use of an open layout to encourage customer exploration, and flexible wall systems that provide the ultimate in design flexibility.

The layout highlights AT&T products and services in three distinct “zones” or departments:

The Connected Experience Zone includes lifestyle scenarios that provide shoppers with glimpses of how products/solutions are used in their everyday lives, spotlighting such categories as music, home security and entertainment.

The Community Zone features community tables where customers can play and explore apps, accessories and devices to see first-hand how they can all work together.

The Explore Zone allows customers to check out and demo the full lineup of AT&T devices and accessories.

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News

Signage Trends

BY Laura Klepacki

Signage continues to gain importance in overall branding efforts, as retailers seek to differentiate themselves with signs tailored to local markets and to create department ambiance. And increasingly, there is a lot more participation by marketing and advertising departments in developing signage programs.

“It is not just the construction or store planning departments anymore,” said Tony Camilletti, executive VP, D/Fab, Madison Heights, Mich.

Advancements in printing techniques have made available a wide variety of materials, helping retailers in their efforts to closely match signage to the store or department image.

“We are seeing the blending of graphics and signing become a key branding element within a space, versus just being a means to tell you where the restrooms are or what is down the aisle,” Camilletti added. “And the elements can be permanent or easily changed out to update as the brand is evolving.”

When it comes to retail sectors, “supermarkets and the food industry are still the pioneers and risk-takers,” Camilletti said.

“They take advantage of their space as a canvas to display, communicate and embellish what the brand is about through color, material, texture and lighting,” he added.

At Whole Foods Market, the signage is designed to reflect each store’s locale, creating a strong sense of place. In the company’s new Detroit store, the bakery header is made up of a series of raw metal conduits, recalling the tail pipes suggested by the famous “Motor City” moniker. The sign in the cheese department features a corrugated metal background, and is designed to recall urban graffiti. (The “Cheese” sign and corrugated metal bulkhead were designed by the store’s design consultant, JGA, Southfield, Mich., and refined and fabricated by D|Fab, which manufactured and installed the store’s interior decor and signing.)

“Whole Foods really celebrates the idea of being local,” Camilletti said.

Digital Solutions

Interest in digital signage solutions has exploded in recent years.

“Digital is now on everybody’s drawing board in some respect,” said Scott Jeffrey, chief creative officer, Interbrand Design Forum, Dayton, Ohio. “It depends on how adventurous you are as a brand for how far you go.”

Some brands are looking to digital tools for flexibility with price promotional messaging at the shelf, Jeffrey said, and “to have more latitude to attract attention in the aisle.”

Kohl’s, for example, has installed digital signs that display prices and discounts on fixtures and racks. The technology is also in pilot in supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores.

“I think the next frontier is for stores to have a digital experience and a physical brand experience at the same time,” Jeffrey said. “There is some magic in that.”

Ridgeland, Miss.-based C Spire Wireless, for example, has introduced a new area in its new generation stores called Engage, an information hub with interactive high-definition screens. Customers can use the touch-screen displays to learn about the company’s reward program and products or tap into its community forum.

Innovations abound. In Japan, select fashion retailers have begun using the TeamLabHanger from Japanese tech firm TeamLab. The hanger has a sensor that triggers a related video on a nearby wall when it is lifted off the rack.

Brazilian fashion retailer C&A has introduced a high-tech hanger with a built-in digital display that shows the number of Facebook “likes” the garment has received. The counters, powered by the retailer’s website, are updated in real time to reflect the input of C&A’s Facebook fans.

Laura Klepacki is a contributing editor for Chain Store Age.

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FINANCE

NRF predicts 4% holiday sales increase

BY Dan Berthiaume

Washington, D.C. – The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects holiday sales to increase 3.9% to $602.1 billion, up slightly from last year’s 3.5% increase. The forecast is higher than the 10-year average holiday sales growth of 3.3%.

The group noted, however, that its forecast hinges “on Congress and the Administration’s actions" over the next 45 days as the government shutdown entered a third day

“Our forecast is a realistic look at where we are right now in this economy, balancing continued uncertainty in Washington and an economy that has been teetering on incremental growth for years,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “Overall, retailers are optimistic for the 2013 holiday season, hoping political debates over government spending and the debt ceiling do not erase any economic progress we’ve already made.”

The NRF says that economic variables including positive growth in the U.S. housing market and increased consumer appetite to buy larger-ticket items give retailers reason to be cautiously optimistic for solid holiday season gains.

However, much remains up in the air, including fiscal concerns around the debt ceiling and government funding, and income growth, as well as policies and actions surrounding foreign affairs, all of which could impact holiday sales. According to NRF, the holiday season can account for anywhere from 20%-40% of a retailer’s annual sales, and accounts for approximately 20% of total industry annual sales.

In addition, NRF expects retailers to hire between 720,000 and 780,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, in line with the actual 720,500 they hired in 2012, which was a 13% year-over-year increase from 2011.

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