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AT&T bites into Apple strategy with its own mega retail store

The aim behind the carrier's new flagship store in Chicago is to gently educate potential buyers about smartphones and other tech.

AT&T's new flagship store in Chicago.
AT&T's new flagship store in Chicago.

AT&T is adopting the Apple philosophy with a mega retail store that focuses on the consumer and not just on selling products.

Opening Saturday, the new 10,000 square-foot store is nestled along Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile. The design of the store offers the promise of a more customer-focused experience than that found at AT&T's usual retail outlets.

The product runway gives customers a chance to check out the latest smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. An Explorer lounge lets people try out different mobile apps based on their interests.

The various products are organized across the store according to specific categories.

The AT&T Digital Life section shows people how to control their homes with the company's mobile devices. A 2012 Nissan Leaf is parked in the Street Smart area to demonstrate AT&T's efforts in automotive technology. Another section lets consumers check out products related to home security, entertainment, and music.

AT&T is putting the store's layout to use. Store visitors and people just passing by can interact with an 18-foot wall display showing information on different products. Art lovers can tour the store's gallery to see works by two Chicago artists -- Cody Hudson and Dalek.

The company is also gearing the store to be more than just about products.

AT&T has set up "quiet and comfortable consultation areas" where consumers can pose questions to store reps about new purchases and other topics. An Apps Bar offers customers individual and group product demos, which also appear on video monitors for others to observe.

"Customers will not only be able to interact with and purchase our products, but they will also experience the forefront of evolving wireless technology and see how AT&T is leading it," Paul Roth, president of AT&T retail sales and service, said in a statement. "Customers can touch, feel and see how our latest devices and apps will fit their lifestyles, whether they're interested in fitness or music, entertainment or family."

If all of this sounds familiar, well, it is.

The Apple Store was designed with the "customer experience" in mind, offering a showcase of products for potential buyers and support for existing users. Based on Apple's retail success, other companies haven't been shy about borrowing that theme.

Microsoft's retail stores show off the company's products and try to help customers through hands-on demos, video displays, and interactive tutorials.

Beyond AT&T, other mobile carriers have gotten into the act as well.

Last year, both Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile starting launching workshops to teach prospective buyers about smartphones, tablets, and other devices. The aim is help customers become more comfortable with and less overwhelmed by the array of technology choices. In doing so, the companies hope to build relationships with those consumers, which then can lead to sustained product sales.

Below is AT&T's video tour of the store: