AT&T this week is opening The Lounge, a hybrid retail space and coffee shop in Seattle that features AT&T smartphones and other products on display, and will also sell coffee and related merchandise from partner Ada's Discovery Cafe, according to a company blog post.
The 3,000-square-foot space in the city's Capitol Hill neighborhood is meant to have a living room feel, with TVs, room for community events and fewer products on display than a typical AT&T retail space, per the release. It is staffed by AT&T customer service reps, including someone serving in a concierge role, but also by an award-winning barista, Geekwire reported.
The report comes just a few days after AT&T said it plans to open 1,000 new retail stores in the next year and a half, along with 100 small pop-up stores in condo and apartment buildings that will focus on selling and support AT&T's mobile products and services, according to a story from Forbes.
With this new Seattle store, AT&T is following in the footsteps of Apple, Amazon and even banking giant Capital One in trying to create a retail store that is supposed to be less a store and more a stylish, comfortable, community-friendly space.
This may be a bigger jump for AT&T to make than it was for Apple. Though both companies are among the biggest names in tech (AT&T was the first mobile phone carrier to sell the original iPhone more than a decade ago), AT&T is more than 130 years old, and may still be remembered more as the stuffy old landline telephone company. Apple, meanwhile, brought status, style and a focus on customer experience to the mobile phone, and carried those traits over to its retail store strategy.
Still, selling consumer and business telecommunications products, and particularly mobile smartphones and tablets bundled with AT&T mobile data services, could be a brick-and-mortar retail segment relatively shielded from the sector's more apocalyptic trends. Shoppers can now buy mobile smartphones and related gear easily online, but the buying experience is one that likely moves more smoothly if shoppers can hold and test the products in person.
While these gadgets can now be purchased in a variety of other physical retail outlets as well, engaging with shoppers in its own retail space allows AT&T to provide and strengthen its personal experience with customers, a major goal of just about any retailer.
It's not clear if the new Seattle store is emblematic of what we should expect from AT&T's broader 1,000-store expansion project, but the Seattle venue and AT&T's commitment to pop-ups show it is ready to think differently about its retail strategy. However, there also may be a competitive imperative for AT&T to make changes. For example, direct competitor T-Mobile has been pursuing its own strategy to open "signature stores" and Comcast is also pushing a new mobile retail strategy.
AT&T has also worked with Enjoy, the flexible product delivery and customer support startup from former Apple and J.C. Penney executive Ron Johnson in the past.