When the Department of Commerce began tracking online sales in 1998, e-commerce made up about only 0.2 percent of all retail sales. By 2013, online sales had increased 50-fold. If that’s not enough to rattle brick-and-mortar retailers, note that at the height of the Great Recession in 2008-2009, online sales was the only retail category that kept growing. Today, with every imaginable product just a click away, retailers need to offer more than attractive wares to get shoppers back into the offline store, and the majority haven’t come up with a great solution.
Companies like Apple and Prada solve the problem with stores that invite customers to participate in a brand experience that encourages emotional connections and associations between consumers, the store and their products. These contextual retail environments are not only responsible for showcasing how the product works, they’re also stages for events and larger group experiences. These retail environments transcend the buying experience beyond a basic, primary function to gateways into a community, collective experience.
Comcast wanted a different kind of retail environment—a place where people would choose to visit again and again. The design challenge was to create a contextual environment that would capture the essence of the Xfinity connectivity service and create a critical interpersonal connection that elevates a product to something more. Comcast turned to the experience design firm, ESI Design to conceive of a new flagship store to be located on Weed Street in Chicago.
A First-of-its-Kind Retail Service Environment
ESI Design has a long history innovating visitor-focused experience design. Deploying the same design philosophy that produces engaging experiences for cultural institutions and other public-facing spaces, the essential qualities of the Xfinity brand were interpreted into an engaging, custom retail context. Ultimately, the holistic design approach produced Studio Xfinity, a retail environment that embodies brand features and qualities through interactive elements, creative media content, new digital tools and games that inform, engage—and connect.
Developing this experimental retail experience because of the focus on offering services and subscriptions over selling physical products posed a new challenge for ESI Design. Additionally, the designers needed to transform the consumer perception of what can often prove a frustrating process, namely dealing with a cable company, into a fun, interactive and emotionally engaging experience.
If the Apple Store embodies the sleek design and friendliness of an iPhone, and if Prada’s flagship stores expressed the opulent luxury of a hand-stitched bag, then Studio Xfinity physically represents the cable service’s diverse offering of media and technology. This doesn’t mean Studio Xfinity mimics the Apple Store experience. Rather, it means that everything in the space, from the color scheme to the media presentations to the interactive games and demos, refers to feature specific to Xfinity’s connective services. Just like the service itself, the store provides entertainment and connectivity, anytime, anywhere.
Turning Customer Wait Time into Play, Share and Learn Time
Customers who walk into Studio Xfinity to pick up a new cable subscription or get tech support might be surprised to find that rather than waiting in line for service, they’re directed to enter into a dynamic media environment filled with live games, educational programs and opportunities to explore new product offerings. When a customer visits Studio Xfinity, they’re immediately met with and engaged by media on over 800 square-feet of LED video screens. Customers can also test drive Xfinity products on any of the store’s 46 tablets or touchscreen surfaces.
ESI developed the content for those displays by thinking like the customer. Everyone has visited a cable provider, usually with the aim of getting in and out as quickly as possible. Empathy with those feelings drove the designers to reduce the wait time by empowering customer service representatives with new and more efficient digital tools. What little time remains at a visit to Xfinity can hardly be considered “wait time,” anymore: An array of engaging group games, interactive content, workshops and demos offer themselves at every turn in the spaces, offering fun, entertainment and educational programming that answers almost any question customers might have.
A Different Kind Of Retail Experience
The new digital tools, contained in a tablet-based app called the ‘Associate Toolkit,’ allows associates to instantly assess and troubleshoot customer issues and infographic support history, control the in-store media and connect to the POS system from anywhere in the store. Not only does this streamline the customer experience, it enables associates to customize the store’s media screens for group programs and activities.
The programs take place in Xfinity’s ‘Studios’ three communal, themed areas focused around large screens. In the Studios, customers interact with each other and the main Studio screen while playing single-player or group games, watch live demos or try out new Xfinity products. These media environments are totally flexible, and the Studios can work in tandem for storewide events, such as launches, movie premieres or even larger-scale, multiplayer games.
This Studio is a great example of how retailers can create physical, contextual brand environments that initiate and amplify the emotional connection between a brand’s products or services and the customers whose loyalty they need in order to survive in a world increasingly dominated by online retail. The studios physically embody the brand identity of media and connectivity, provide a shared, entertaining experience that customers can’t get online and give the visitors a reason to come back again. And if this type of approach to crafting a contextual retail environment can make a visit to repair the cable box fun and emotionally engaging, just imagine what it can do for other retailers.