By Christopher Krywulak
President and CEO, iQmetrix
Consumer expectations of wireless carriers continue to rise, in terms of coverage, pricing of devices and plans — and also in terms of the in-store customer experience.
The key word in the phrase "in-store customer experience" is of course "experience."
You sell experiences
As a retailer, you are selling experiences, not just products and services. And as we near mobile device saturation (mobile phone ownership in the U.S. reached 91 percent in May 2013), fewer and fewer consumers are first-time phone buyers.
These days, the majority of consumers already know which phones they want when they come into a store, so the focus is shifting to accessories and add-ons that enhance people's lives and address their personal interests.
Furthermore, beyond selling mobile phones, 86 percent of consumers say they will pay more for a better customer experience in general. So all retailers could learn something from how wireless retail has evolved of late.
A better wireless store experience
So what parts of the wireless store leave room for improvement?
- Making the physical environment much more pleasant and inviting for all demographics.
- Displaying products in the context of use scenarios (i.e. stories). For example, introducing themed accessory areas (music, fitness, home appliance connectivity, etc.). Creating unique environments, introducing digital tools and enabling staff to deliver those stories.
On an operational level, how can wireless stores evolve?
- Enabling pricing and product info transparency by ensuring online information can be found in-store (omnichannel).
- Reducing perceived wait times for assistance (tablet-equipped salespeople) and checkout (mobile POS).
- Making the store a social place where people, families and friends can not only check out new products, but come to learn, get support, be inspired and have some fun along the way.
- Making the store feel local and supportive of local events, organizations and businesses.
Verizon and AT&T leading the charge
Last November, Verizon opened a new flagship store at Minneapolis' Mall of America, dubbed the "Verizon Destination Store." The store spans nearly 10,000 square feet and focuses less on mobile phones and more on the "mobile lifestyle." The store features five interactive "Lifestyle Zones" for experiencing wireless devices, apps and accessories: sports and fitness; music; gaming; home; and business.
AT&T was already ahead of the pack, opening its own flagship store on Chicago's Magnificent Mile in the summer of 2012. The store, also 10,000 square feet in size, focuses squarely on the customer experience. The store ticks off all the checkboxes of a next-generation retail place: online information available in-store; anywhere checkout via mobile POS; experienced staff creating meaningful relationships with customers by encouraging human interaction and instruction (e.g. a photojournalist helping customers use photography apps and accessories); fusion of entertainment and education; and a localized store identity as a Chicagoland destination inviting shoppers and tourists to browse, socialize and learn about Chicago.
The ultimate store: Solutions, not transactions
One thing that is clear about the Verizon and AT&T flagship stores — and Apple stores before those — is a shift away from simple sales and toward the customer experience. These retailers focused not on the products they're selling, but on the solutions these products offer consumers — how these products make people's lives easier and better.
"Wireless carriers have become increasingly important sellers of electronics as mobile devices have displaced personal computers as the center of many people's digital lives," the NY Times' Nick Wingfield recently wrote. "New designs for AT&T and Verizon Wireless stores reflect that."
As Wingfield noted, wireless stores are indicating a greater trend in electronics retail — and this trend is true in retail as a whole. Consider other tech-savvy retailers like Macy's, Nordstrom, Sephora and Starbucks, for example. They're all finding ways to make customers' lives easier, either through apps, personalized customer service, loyalty integration, operational changes, or all of the above.
The ultimate wireless store offers solutions to everyday problems. Most consumers already have a smartphone. Beyond figuring out how to use it at a basic level, they are interested in answering more sophisticated, lifestyle-oriented questions:
- "How can I control my TV and home theater from my phone?"
- "Which app will help me count calories and plan meals according to my current weight loss goals?"
- "How can I find my way around on my vacation in Italy and stay on top of my business back home?"
Once a wireless customer is in your store, you should give them an opportunity to learn, explore, socialize and be entertained according to their personal needs and lifestyle. That's the customer experience they're looking for.
(Photo by Clean Walmart.)