Ina Fried

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AT&T’s Revamped Stores Will Feature Wood Accents, Lots of Open Space and a Decided Lack of Cash Registers

AT&T’s stores are getting a big makeover.

The new-look stores, which are rolling out nationwide, feature lots of wood, lots of products to try out — and no check-out counters. Instead, workers with tablets will be able to help customers face-to-face throughout the store.

“Transactions belong on the Web, and interactions belong in the store,” AT&T retail head Paul Roth said in an interview.

The carrier is taking a bunch of the concepts it used in a flagship store it opened last year on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Some features — such as the Nissan Leaf connected car — won’t scale, but many of the design concepts pioneered at that location will find their way into the new-look stores.

Roth said that, in thinking about how to redesign the stores, the company paid particular attention to how the Web has changed retailing.

“The next 10 years of retail are going to be very different than the last 100, and that’s primarily to the growth of the Web,” Roth said.

Transactions, he said, can largely be done over the Internet. The store, he said, is a place to see and touch things and to get personal attention.

“A retailer that is just in the transactions business is going to be out of business,” he said.

Over time, AT&T aims to move all of its stores to the new look, with the first store already open for AT&T employees at the company’s campus in Atlanta. The first public-facing store is due to open in La Grange, Ill., with 15 to 20 redesigned stores planned for before the end of the year.

“We believe we have the winning formula, and we are going to start rolling it out,” Roth said.

Roth said the company spent a lot of time trying to figure out what its store of the future should look like. It even questioned whether it would need so many stores, noting the disappearance of places like Circuit City and Borders, as well as the woes facing many other brick-and-mortar stores.

In the end, AT&T decided it did need its large physical presence, but said that new stores that wanted to survive needed to be personal and fun, and offer more than just a place to buy things.

The ideal new store is 3,000 to 3,500 feet, with 50 feet of frontage to the street, Roth said. (A scaled-down, less-expensive version of the new look has been created for the smaller kinds of shops operated for AT&T by third-party dealers.)

The wood in the store is reclaimed teak, which Roth said is both environmentally friendly and helps provide the warm feel AT&T is going for.

A wall on the back contains the full scope of devices, while pedestals throughout the store focus on specific experiences, such as music or the digital home. The music section has a full-size electric guitar on display, along with various headsets and speakers that customers can try out. Other potential experiences include fitness and photography.

Other tables are more open, for one-on-one trainings and handling customer questions. For those with more complex technical or billing questions, an area in the rear provides a semiprivate space. Appointments can be booked online, or customers can drop in, with about half of the support capacity available for walk-ins.

A string of connected big-screen TVs — a concept used at the Chicago store — can be used to broadcast national messages, such as the launch of a new phone, or local messages, such as congratulating the Blackhawks after they won the Stanley Cup.

And, while other electronics stores, such as Best Buy, are looking to hand over space to individual brands to create a store-within-a-store, AT&T says it doesn’t want that.

“We don’t believe it is worth leasing out the store,” Roth said. “We don’t want to be dictated to by a partner.”

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