Verizon Wireless is opening its first “Destination Store” this week at Mall of America, a nearly 10,000-square-foot showroom that marries technology with lifestyle—building on the showrooming trend that tech retailers are now embracing, and upping the ante among rivals. The store will open to the public at 7 p.m. Wednesday—following a private store visit by actress and singer Selena Gomez, who will be anointed Verizon’s “first customer.” After her appearance, customers will have a chance to win tickets in store to her Thursday concert at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Unlike the Apple and Microsoft stores, where products take center stage, Verizon puts the spotlight on real-life experiences, which creates the potential for more a-ha moments for the average consumer, like controlling a thermostat via cell phone in the store’s model home, or testing out a FitBit wristband while on a treadmill that faces a floor-to-ceiling screen where customers can simulate a walk along the shore or a hike in the mountains. It’s not just about trying out products, but getting a glimpse at how they could be useful in your life.
The store is divided into lifestyle zones for home, business, fitness, and fun. There’s a mini golf display that consumers can control via cell phone. The On The Go area tracks flight departures and arrivals at the nearby Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. One of the areas sure to get a lot of traffic is the Customize It zone where you can customize smartphone accessories with a personal photo on the spot for $5 (plus $29.99 for the case).
“This is not about find a phone,” Verizon Wireless Chief Operating Officer Marni Walden said. “This is about helping customers find what works best. It’s an evolution from retail to service.” Training for the store staff of 71 went beyond the usual product tutorials to sessions with disc jockeys, athletes, and leaders in other key fields to learn more about how they use technology. Building on that experience-centered philosophy, the store will host additional celebrity appearances this week by Fox Sports sportscaster Erin Andrews (Thursday, Nov. 21, 2 to 4 p.m.) to talk about fitness wireless technology and fashion editor/Project Runway judge Nina Garcia (Saturday, Nov. 23, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.) to offer tips on customizing mobile devices and stylish tech accessories.
Verizon plans two more Destination Stores in Chicago and Houston in 2014. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless is beginning the process of converting its entire fleet of 1,700 traditional stores into “Smart Stores,” with similar lifestyle zones on a smaller scale. Mall of America made sense for the first Destination Store because it attracts “a true cross section” of consumers, said lead designer Jay Highland of Ohio-based Chute Gerdeman. For inspiration, Highland said he looked beyond technology, to retailers like Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie that do “an amazing job” of cultivating an engaging store experience.
Located on level two, above the Forever 21 superstore, Verizon brings energy to the edge of MOA’s Southeast Court, which has been dormant since Bloomingdale’s closed in 2012.