AT&T Experience Stores Follow Apple's Lead

AT&T has adopted a touchy-feely marketing strategy to generate consumer buzz for its products and services. The San Antonio, Texas-based carrier opened eight "Experience Stores" throughout the United States this year, and has many more planned for 2008.

The stores aim to eliminate a mind-numbing experience by allowing consumers to touch and feel their way through more than 40 handsets and a ton of services. "Experience Stores let customers see how our products work at their own pace," says Fred Devereux, vice president/GM of AT&T's wireless operations in northern California and Reno, Nev. "In the stores, we can teach people how to remotely set their DVRs from a wireless handset. They can learn how to do it before they buy the equipment and services."

While the stores allow consumers to try AT&T's products and services before they buy, the concept isn't new. The Pioneer store, which opened in 2006 in Southern California's South Coast Plaza, is marketed as the playground for products not available elsewhere, including furniture built to house Pioneer's TVs, DVD players and sound systems.



Apple, for example, relies on knowledgeable sales associates eager to educate those who walk through the doors. They lead customers from one product to the next. Consumers not only experience iPods and MacBooks, but learn how the devices work together before making a purchase.

Apple customers won't see cash registers in most stores. Instead, sales associates carry a portable credit card reader to check out consumers on the spot, e-mailing the receipt. Industry experts suggest that Apple's marketing strategy reduces the likelihood for returns, and makes consumers feel more comfortable with their purchases.

The tech industry has become more active in educating consumers on highly complex products and service hitting today's market, says Peter Rhamey, telecommunications analyst at BMO Capital Markets. "For the most part, the carriers have relatively low churn until they put the products and services directly in the hands of consumers," he says. "The consumer gets to test the products, and there's no surprise when they get them home."

Decked out with gadgets, "experience stations" at AT&T's Experience Stores let consumers touch, feel and try broadband, wireline and wireless products and services, from music to TV. The stores are more than 4,000 square feet and showcase 40 handsets from Apple, Motorola, Nokia and Samsung, among others.

Most stores highlight Apple's iPhone, 3G phones and Bluetooth accessories, giving customers an interactive experience to test multimedia messaging and photo- and video-sharing capabilities. Store clerks demonstrate AT&T U-verse TV and DirecTV programming on 52-inch HD plasma televisions, mostly Samsungs. Customers can browse the Internet, customize AT&T Yahoo home page portals and test AT&T Remote Monitoring through a camera set up in the store via wireless phones.

Consumers are encouraged to interact with laptops that are geared toward road warriors and integrate phones, PDAs, global positioning systems and Bluetooth accessories. Music lovers can also listen to XM Satellite Radio on wireless phones, Bluetooth headphones and external speakers.

Between two and four store kiosks in each store allow customers to view wireless rate plans and phones, providing information they need to make decisions. Potential future applications built into the kiosks might include cross-marketing products and services, Devereux says.

"If a consumer looked up information on one product, predictive analytics software could suggest another," he says, emphasizing that the search tool isn't available in the store today, but remains a possibility for the future. "It's similar to the way Amazon provides helpful hints when buying a book. This could narrow the consumer's search so they can make more informed decisions."

AT&T has eight Experience Stores in Houston; San Antonio; two stores in Atlanta; Buford, Ga.; San Bruno, Calif.; Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.; and Little Rock, Ark. Dozens of new locations will open, and existing ones will be remodeled in 2008.

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