Once relegated to the sidelines, retail locations are increasingly becoming the new face of cable companies, allowing customers not only to pay their bills and pick up equipment, but to try out new services in a relaxed, high-tech atmosphere.
Comcast arguably unveiled the new face of cable in 2015, when it announced plans to revamp its Xfinity stores across the country, turning its retail locations into cable versions of Apple’s Genius Bars. With sleek lines and stacks of high-tech equipment, big-screen TVs and video game consoles, the stores not only showcased what Comcast had to offer, but educated customers in the nuances of broadband, home security and control and all they could do with those services.
Back in 2015, at the launch of its flagship Studio Xfinity in Chicago during INTX: The Internet & Television Expo, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said the operator saw the new retail initiative as a huge opportunity.
“As we improve the service and offer more and more products, customers are saying ‘Gosh, I didn’t know I could do that,’” Roberts told Multichannel News at the time.
Comcast has since built or refurbished 258 Xfinity retail stores across the country, with new plans to upgrade the experience even more. Clearly Comcast, and others, are seeing the power of putting on a good face.
Charter Communications is revamping hundreds of Spectrum stores across its footprint, partly in anticipation of the planned June launch of its wireless product. Cox Communications has more than 100 Cox Solutions stores across its footprint and Altice USA opened Optimum Experience Centers in Long Island, N.Y., and Paramus, N.J., where customers can interact with new products like the Altice One hub, “smart home” offerings from Nest and see high-speed internet demonstrations. The Experience Centers are separate from the company’s Optimum retail walk-in stores that continue to handle all exchanges, returns and requests for equipment and in-person bill payments.
Comcast vice president of retail John Giacomazzi said Comcast has conducted reams of research, and has spoken with employees and individual customers to make the normally transactional nature of customer interactions more palatable. In the retail business, he added, if a customer walks in with a piece of equipment to return or repair, they are met at the door by a greeter, who takes the equipment, gives them a receipt and encourages them to browse around the store while their transaction is completed.
The retail location is set up in zones — X1 for entertainment, home security and the connected home, internet and Xfinity Mobile. Within each of those zones, the product is on display so they can use it themselves or be walked through its operation by a sales consultant.
“It’s a much brighter retail store experience and [has] more of a residential feel, as opposed to an industrial service center,” Giacomazzi said. “It’s a warm environment. We have solid oak floors; we have bright lights and a very neutral palette. Everything is out and open and available for receiving a customer’s touch and engagement.”
The stores are also in high-traffic retail areas, such as malls and shopping centers, away from the more industrial office park locations of the past.
“We’re with traditional retailers — Apple and Sephora, Starbucks, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma,” Giacomazzi said, adding that most of the stores are standalone, but the company has a few mall locations coming up. Comcast expects to add more than 50 new stores throughout the footprint this year alone. The goal, he said, is to eventually have every customer within a 15 minute drive of an Xfinity retail location.
The stores also are chock full of accessories like new xFi pods — plug-in devices that extend the reach of WiFi service throughout the home — as well as cell phone cases, protection, power, speakers and headsets.
“We’re expanding the complementary accessories,” Giacomazzi said, adding that Comcast is moving toward accessories that will enhance the overall experience. “If you are streaming or DVR-ing your content away from home, we have a nice headset that will help you listen to that content.”
Cox Communications senior vice president of customer care Peter Lilly agreed, adding that at Cox Solutions stores, Cox sells everything from lightbulbs to modems.
“It’s not meant to break the bank as much as make sure that customers are getting the most of what they want from us as a full service business,” Lilly said. “It’s as much about retaining a customer, making sure we’re adding value and sharing knowledge about what our products can do for them. We want somebody when they walk in to pay their bill to know not only that their bill was paid, but to learn something new about their products and services. Maybe it’s something they are already paying for, but they didn’t understand how to get the most out of it. That’s another benefit for us and a value-add for the customer long-term.”