The 10,000-square-foot store, opening Saturday in the Magnificent Mile shopping mecca, is three times larger than the average of the company’s 2,300 retail outlets. Across the street from Coach and Cartier stores, it has cement floors, white plastic, and reclaimed teak furniture with more than 100 video displays.
With the loss of its exclusive agreement to sell Apple’s iPhone and a saturated wireless market that makes it hard to find new subscribers, AT&T is planning to use its stores to gain an edge against Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile USA. The move also pits AT&T against the standard-bearer in consumer-electronics retail, Apple itself.
Retail president Paul Roth’s plan is to blend the hands-on approach of Apple stores with a visually dazzling environment. He’s requiring sales staff to greet visitors within 10 seconds or 10 feet after they’ve entered the store, to make them welcome without shadowing them, he said.
Emulating Apple doesn’t guarantee success. Nike, Nokia Oyj, Microsoft, and Sony have each tested brand-centered retailing, with mixed results. Nokia has shut stores in New York, Chicago, London, and Mexico City in the past three years after starting its own retail chain in 2005.
AT&T has tried to give its store a customer-friendly makeover before. In 2007, it opened its first ‘‘AT&T Experience’’ store, a 5,000-square-foot Houston location with sales kiosks and product demonstrations.
The Chicago flagship goes beyond the Experience concept, which AT&T has dropped. At the front of the new store is an 18-foot wall of video screens and an App Lounge where people can use 55-inch monitors to test apps. The shop’s open layout has a series of ‘‘boutiques’’ where customers can see demonstrations on how to prepare for the Chicago Marathon, for example.
‘‘Customers are overwhelmed by technology,’’ Roth said. ‘‘They want to know less about the device and more about what it can do for them.’’