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Verizon redesigns in-store experience with hands-on mobile approach

A major part of the redesign is a new layout of lifestyle zones that let consumers try out different mobile devices and applications and fully understand the technology before making a purchase. Verizon partnered with Chute Gerdeman to design the new in-store experience, one that takes a multichannel and experiential approach to retail strategy.

“Generally, Chute Gerdeman creates retail experiences for brands that connect shoppers because retail is oftentimes the first connection point that shoppers have to a brand and it’s where promises are delivered to shoppers about what the brand is about, so the in-store experience is a huge component of consumer perception of a brand,” said Jay Highland, head of the Verizon redesign project and vice president and client creative partner at Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, OH.

“For Verizon, specifically, the world that we live in is more technologically connected than ever,” he said. “As our lives are connected more technologically it becomes more important for carries like Verizon to really think about how their customers lives are impacted by technology because we all have ways in which we can use technology to make our lives more efficient or be better.

“That’s what Verizon is doing, is to understand that customers may have varied interests, how do we complete that story for customers with the accessories that make their lives more efficient and better and the apps that power them and Verizon is well suited to be the provider of all those things, so it’s a complete picture it’s not just the phone.”

Retail redesign
Verizon’s new retail strategy will debut with the recent opening of the 9,000+-square foot destination store at Mall of America in Minnesota.

When a consumer walks into the store, he or she will encounter different lifestyle zones that provide devices, accessories and apps related to different lifestyles. One zone is called “Amplify it” and represents the music lifestyle.

That zone has a DJ booth that lets consumers play with the newest apps. It also has a speaker wall to compare Bluetooth speakers and headphones to try out.

Another zone is for fitness and lets shoppers get on an actual treadmill and try out devices such as a Fitbit. A screen in front will show the shopper the benefits of using that device.

Additionally, all Verizon store specialists are equipped with tablets that let them show customers how to use products and give demos. The specialists can also check out a customer via the tablets.

“It was one of our biggest goals to integrate technology into the experience,” Mr. Highland said. “Tablets and smartphones are used throughout the store especially in the lifestyle zones to demonstrate how products work.

“It’s very important to show customers this is how things actually work so when you get home you’ll know what to do,” he said. “The tablets and smartphones that are in the actual experiences power what you’re playing with.

“Everything is turned on, everything is live. It’s very important that the smartphones are hands on, able to be touched and used and show you how it’s going to work in your life.”

While the Mall of America store will have the complete design, Verizon also plans to expand the new layout to all of its 1,700 stores to some degree over the next couple of years. Verizon already has 100 Smart Stores open across the U.S.

Mobile stores
According to Nikki Baird, Denver-based managing partner at RSR Research, most retailers are not doing enough with mobile in-store.

“I don’t think that retailers have fully leveraged the mobile opportunity in stores,” Ms. Baird said. “I think there is still going to be a lot of experimentation around connecting the physical and digital and using mobile as that connector.

“Verizon’s investment reflects the beginning of what I expect to be a theme in 2014,” she said.

Many retailers have been focusing on creating out-of-store mobile experiences such as shopping apps and mobile sites, but they are failing to realize the potential mobile has for in-store experiences as well.

“There is no question mobile is changing all aspects of retail, from design to customer experience to how we shop — physical, emotional and decisional,” said Jared Meisel, managing partner at Theory House, Charlotte, NC. “Mobile has acted more as a pull in retail — shoppers leveraging mobile have driven the change, forcing retailers to evolve their mobile strategies. And while Verizon is later to the game then some, the point is that they are evolving — and faster than most.

“It is no surprise technology focused retailers are leading this mobile retail evolution, exploring how their smaller footprints can integrate and leverage emerging technology to connect with shoppers and deliver information,” he said. “The rest of retail should be learning from their approaches to customer experience, physical layout and technology integration.”

Discovery and exploration
The key theme behind Verizon’s redesign is discovery and exploration. The carrier wants shoppers to be able to engage with its products in new ways within the store itself.

In addition to the interactive zones and displays, the redesign also includes changes in merchandise assortment, staff training and real estate planning.

Verizon is adapting to the evolving way in which consumers engage with brands and shopping.

“The way people research shop and engage with brands now is very different than it’s been historically, and that is driven by the ubiquity of the technology that’s at our disposal,” said Chris Collins, lead for the technology and entertainment process for Millward Brown Digital, Boston.

“People now have a lot more searching, sharing capabilities at their fingertips than they used to,” he said. “The stores themselves are also able to take advantage of that, so they’re changing.”

While Verizon is one of the early adopters of this “Smart store” concept, a number of other merchants have already updated their stores.

Apple was the first to revolutionize store design a few years ago, but other retailers are recognizing that the in-store experience is increasingly about inspiration and finding how products fit into a customer’s life (see story).

AT&T also unveiled a new store format intended to reflect customers’ mobile lifestyle where café-style learning tables replace cash registers.

“Obviously Apple has raised the bar for a lot of companies but especially companies that sell technology services,” Mr. Collins said.

“The space is evolving very quickly,” he said. “We’re seeing constant evolution.

“It takes a little bit longer to evolve a physical retail experience, you’ve got leases, build-out, taking a traditional AT&T or Verizon store and transforming it into something very different, that may take longer than changing for example your Web site, but I think it’s all constantly evolving and the bar’s going to continue to be raised.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York