The Store of the Future Has Arrived (and No, It's Not Apple)

How brands are digitizing retail

As if that weren’t enough to command one’s notice, a Nissan Leaf is parked in front of a huge picture window, set up to interactively demonstrate how assorted auto-based apps can be used to monitor how fast their teenagers are driving. A few feet away, another area features apps that let users track who comes and goes from their homes.

The store hosts cool events with partners as well. Chicago Blackhawks legends Bobby Hull and Eddie Olczyk showed up to take a whack—with a hockey stick, duh—at Otter’s new smartphone cases to demonstrate their durability.

“Humans remember stories,” says Christina Cheng, area manager of the AT&T store. “So explaining things with stories instead of specs is a much easier way for people to understand how technology can help them.”

The space and its collection of shiny things serve as a lab for what might be deployed elsewhere at AT&T’s 2,300 locations. “You will see six or seven elements of the Michigan Avenue design incorporated to scale with the rest of our portfolio,” says Roth.

More than merely influencing what’s to come at AT&T, the store has become an incubator for what consumers will come to expect from retailers across the board—and it’s not just tech companies that are dotting their blueprints with digital tools.

Claire Huang, CMO of JPMorgan Chase, says many more tech features are in the offing. “We’ve developed a new branch concept with an open format that gives customers options. From the traditional teller window to the advice zone and tablets to self-serve kiosks and the instant-issue credit card machines, our approach is centered around choice and making the experience better for the customer,” she says.

Even a simple lube job is getting the digital redo. Auto service chain Pep Boys recently gave a deteriorating Tampa, Fla., location a techie overhaul, including iPads for associates and a digital lounge for customers to charge their smartphones and tablets and free WiFi. “When it reopened, we had people walking in there asking, ‘Is this still a Pep Boys?’ ” says Ron Stoupa, CMO of the Philadelphia-based chain. “You want people to think of your brand as being at the forefront rather than falling behind the times.”

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