Thursday, April 3, 2008

Apple May Be Influencing The Mobile Phone Industry In More Ways Than We Thought: Verizon's "Evolutionary" New Store Design

Verizon is changing their retail experience with an "evolutionary" store design. There will be a number of "innovative systems and operational enhancements" to improve the customer experience. What does this mean? Definitions of innovation and what is a good customer experience are nebulous at best. Here is a list of some of the new features of these redesigned stores:

  • A dedicated demo zone where customers can explore, experiment and learn using interactive touch-screens or be guided by product-savvy sales staff.
  • More than 55 working models of handsets, PC cards and other devices for customers to try.
  • A greeter kiosk that allows customers to check in once they enter the store and list their wireless needs, so representatives can quickly assist them.
  • A bill payment kiosk that allows customers to make account payments quickly and easily using checks, cash or credit/debit cards.
  • Customer service and technical support departments, making it easy for customers to get account information, access customer service and address technical issues from trained in-store staff.

It's been interesting to observe how the entire mobile phone market has been wagged by the Apple, which makes me wonder if this is a natural extension of that. Is Verizon looking to make their stores be more like an Apple store experience? Product-savvy salespeople sounds a lot like Apple "Specialists." Greeter kiosks act like Apple's "Concierge" personnel. Having working products in store that you can kick the tires on is just what people do at an Apple Store.

The major unseen difference between an Apple product and a Verizon product is not the brick & mortar stores nor the cell phones themselves, but the mechanism that people use to manage the devices. iTunes is this invisible element that people use to activate and enjoy manipulating the data they put on their iPhone. It is not the barrier that all these other devices have for performing this critical part of the overall experience.

Just the other day I tried to get my Sony Ericsson Walkman phone connected to my computer. I had to download and install 6 different software ‘things' and reboot my computer twice to try to doing anything. Once installed, working with the software was a bit confusing. I had to learn new ways to try and marry the files on my computer with the hard drive on the phone. I didn't enjoy a bit of it, and wasn't able to find the content on the phone after I thought I transferred the files.

Easily getting my music, address book and photos on my phone is something that Verizon should focus on. If they do, maybe they will have the crowd problem at their stores as Apple does. I'm not sure if demo zones and greeter kiosks will do the trick.

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