AT&T plans to eliminate sales counters, registers, information placards and printers from 15 to 20 of its retail locations by the end of the year and will continue to roll out the less-cluttered design to more of its 2,300 U.S. stores into 2014.
"It's a pretty radical departure from what we've done in the past," AT&T Chief Marketing Officer David Christopher said in a recent interview. "We want people to try, play with and ultimately buy our products...If [shopping] was just transaction based, customers could do it on the web."
All the above items have long been mainstays of the retail experience, but AT&T now believes they are extraneous at best, and discomforting at worst. By removing them from its stores, AT&T hopes to make customers more at ease with using, and in turn purchasing, the products on display.
In lieu of cash registers, AT&T's store employees will become the latest in the retail space to be equipped with tablets and mobile point-of-sale systems. Already the likes of Puma, Barney's and Sephora have given employees tablets to ease the checkout process.
AT&T's new stores will also have flat screens that can be updated overnight rather than taking weeks to replace in-store signage. Kohl's recently rolled out e-signs nationally, allowing the retailer to easily change prices remotely.
And instead of customers having to discuss details of their phone plans across a counter, AT&T has installed booths where employees and customers can speak privately at a table.
"It's much more inviting and warmer to be side-by-side discussing a solution than across the counter from somebody," Mr. Christopher said.
Orange, typically AT&T's accent color, will be the predominant color on display in the new stores. The stores will also feature residential-style furniture and wood paneling made from reused teak. The design is meant to be "warm" and "inviting." "Everything is designed to be as if you were in a friend's living room," said Mr. Christopher. AT&T worked with retail design firm Callison on the new layouts.
The store design is also meant to help educate consumers about how to better use the mobile technology available to them. Despite the ubiquity of smartphones, consumers are surprisingly unaware of how to take full advantage their features, Mr. Christopher said.
To this end, AT&T will group devices by mobile operating system (Android and iOS, for example) and by lifestyle. One section will be entirely devoted to showing music fanatics which apps, mobile devices and accessories work best for enjoying music.
"Not all customers are aware of the robust solutions you can wrap around smartphones and tablets. The opportunity in retail is that you can bring those experiences to life."
The first store to undergo the redesign will be AT&T's LaGrange, Ill., location, chosen because it had recently moved. The company hopes to have 15 to 20 stores flipped by the end of the year, but Mr. Christopher did not specify which stores.
AT&T declined to say how many of its 2,300 stores will eventually be renovated or how much it will cost. But the streamlined design may reduce overhead in the long run. The redesigned stores will all be Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.