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AT&T's Retail Revamp Goes for a Genius Bar Look

An AT&T store in Chicago
An AT&T store in ChicagoPhotograph by Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

An AT&T store occupying an old Borders bookstore location in suburban Chicago introduced sleek aesthetic upgrades last week, including tasteful wood paneling, café-style sitting areas, and edgier lighting fixtures. But for all the new additions, the makeover to the telecom giant’s La Grange (Ill.) outlet was more conspicuous—and more than a little familiar—for the retail-world staples that disappeared. Gone are cash registers, posters flashing save-money deals, and anything resembling a sales counter. Employees are free roam the floor with tablets to freely check out paying customers.

The new look appears to be a blatant knock-off of the successful “retailtainment” calculus popularized by Apple Stores, with modern design, hip and mobile staff, and sales transactions sans cash-register. AT&T’s overhaul, which the company intends to expand to more of its 2,300 stores by 2014, is being described as an effort to emphasize the customer experience over sales. “Transactions belong on the Web, and interactions belong in the store,” AT&T retail head Paul Roth explained to AllThingsD. And if it happens also to be an homage to Apple’s retail strategy, who can blame AT&T? The carrier relies heavily on Apple products—and no one is better at selling those than Apple. In the final quarter of last year, for example, AT&T reported that the 8.6 million iPhones it sold along with service contracts accounted for 84 percent of all smartphone sales.