More than just shopping at Mag Mile cell phone stores

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

By November 15, 2017

The newly opened Apple store on the Magnificent Mile has got some superhuman competition to contend with. Major cell phone companies have brought in superheroes to fight the war to win your phone contract, in the form of a life-sized Batman mannequin, flanked by his Justice League pals at the AT&T store, and the powerfully enticing aroma of popcorn being served at the T-mobile store just a short walk away. Tech stores are competing for customers with innovative displays that immerse visitors in the latest VR technology and engage the senses in interactive movie studio-like experiences.

On Michigan Avenue, phone companies have invested heavily in their flagship stores to compete for business. Apple had plenty of cash to finance its improved retail space in Chicago which opened in October. In August, the company reported over $45 billion in sales in the quarter ending on July 1, and its new location is nothing short of jaw-dropping with its sleek appearance and riverfront views.

Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail for Apple, gives a tour of the new Michigan Avenue store, 401 N. Michigan Ave. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

Inside the new Apple Store, 401 Michigan Ave., along spacious lanes dividing display tables dubbed “avenues”, Apple staff are on hand to showcase products. New employees called “Creative Pros” offer more in-depth demonstrations in coding, photography, music, and a variety of other areas that can help customers improve their work and productivity. Educational initiatives and seminars that are open to the community, are frequently held in the store’s forum, an open concept classroom. The store’s 250 staff members—four times the number of the old store’s staff—are dedicated to showing Apple users how to get the most out of their device.

At the Michigan Avenue AT&T store, customers are also expected to leave with the feeling that they have gained something from their visit. “We provide exclusive content customers can only find here,” said Angelique Sotelo of the store’s marketing team. “It’s a place where you can really feel like you’re part of our experience.” The experience certainly is unique—walking into the AT&T Flagship store feels much more like walking into Universal Studios than a retail shop. Visitors are greeted by life-size models of the Justice League, standing on a platform with Batman front and center. Guests can walk around the display and explore the realistic figures, checking out their costumes and weapons. Glass cases show off pieces from the upcoming Justice League film including Batman’s tactical suit worn by Ben Affleck and Wonder Woman’s signature outfit worn by Gal Gadot.

The Justice League “takeover” opened on October 27, following months of a Game of Thrones theme at the 600 N. Michigan Ave. store. Throughout the fall, hundreds of guests took their spot on the Iron Throne, posing for photos and checking out the immersive Game of Thrones experience.

Life sized Justice League models greet customers in the AT&T store, 600 N. Michigan Ave. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

Further into the store, a white cube sits toward the back of the store, where an associate invited customers to step inside. What lays ahead is a mind-blowing virtual reality experience. “It simulates you as one of the superheroes,” said store employee Javier Santiago, adding that the new VR experience makes the store unique. “It’s absolutely free and it’s a way that you can be as close as possible to the Justice League.”

Once you are fitted with hand controls and an over-the-eye head mask, the inside of the cube transforms into different worlds. You can find yourself in the Batcave, in the Batmobile or fighting off foreign creatures in Wonder Woman’s surreal amazonian world.

At the completion of your VR experience, an AT&T associate shows you your score, and tells you how you ranked with other customers. The Justice League takeover will stay up through the rest of the year, said Sotelo. After that, it will be another surprise. “There’s always something to look forward to,” Sotelo said.

Just down the road, the T-Mobile store welcomes guests with a wrap-around screen and interactive “Signature Sound Board.” The sound board, which takes up an entire wall, allows guests to tap on the screen to create their own audio files. Using a large-scale keypad, guests can try out different tunes and songs to find their perfect sound, and then send the file to their cell phone to be used as a ringtone.

The “Selfie Wall” also draws crowds to interact with it. Customers can use an iPad to take a photo that then pops up in front of them on the Selfie Wall. Before they know it, the photo is on their own cell phone, too. “The customer is able to take a token of their experience at the store home with them,” said sales associate Brandon Allen.

On “Selfie Saturdays” a variety of fun props are provided for the photos. Each day of the week, T-Mobile employees offer something different to their customers. On Movie Mondays, a popcorn machine pops fresh popcorn for customers to enjoy while shopping. On T-Mobile Tuesdays, customers can use the T-Mobile app to get a new freebie every week, from T-Mobile swag to coupons for local restaurants. Karaoke is every Friday at T-mobile.

Touch screens and walls lined with products at the largest Verison store in the U.S., 840 N. Mich-igan Ave. Photo by Taylor Hartz.

At the northen end of Michigan Avenue, Verizon’s Chicago Flagship store, 840 N. Michigan Ave., is not only the largest Verizon store in the country, but the largest telecommunications store overall in the U.S. With two full floors of devices and accessories, there’s no shortage of shopping options. The first floor shows off a wall of

Bluetooth speakers, and floor to ceiling displays of cell phone cases. LED screens line the walls of the open-concept store, displaying devices available for purchase. If customers see something they like, all they have to do is reach out and touch—every screen covered wall in Verizon is a touch screen. Customers shopping for an iPad can touch images of the iPad they see on screens and are then prompted with a pop up that shows their shopping options, including colors, sizes and prices.

Below the screens, devices are lined up and all are “live.” That means customers can try out any device they see. “We like to be interactive,” said store manager Lani Burke,

“Everything we have for sale you can actually try out before you buy it.” Testing out your tech is a definite draw for customers. In terms of where to purchase an iPhone, the new Apple store only is one option in the sea of modern day science-museum-like stores on the Mag Mile, whose innovative additions are making retail spaces more and more creative.

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