Architect of record: Gensler
Interior, display and lighting design: ESI Design
Integrator: Diversified Media Group
Images: Andy Ryan
“It’s completely different from any other retail store we’ve had,” said Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts at the opening of the company’s first Studio Xfinity store in Chicago last June. He says the 836m2 facility, which offers displays of cable, phone, and electronic devices and descriptions of its services, had been in the works for several years.
The Studio Xfinity concept is part of Comcast’s comprehensive $300 million company-wide customer service improvement campaign, which Roberts is overseeing. These stores are all about giving customers new ways to experience Comcast products and services. The name comes from Comcast’s Xfinity digital platform, which offers on-demand television, internet and home phone services.
“Our goal is to move away from the purely transactional model of the past and implement an entirely new way to engage with customers. It’s an entirely new brand experience for us,” Roberts says.
From its founding 52 years ago, Philadelphia-based Comcast has grown by an aggressive program of mergers and acquisitions into a mega-giant media and electronic services delivery supplier for residential and business cable, internet, and phone services. It also owns the NBC National Broadcasting System and Universal Studios, operators of theme parks in Florida and other US locations.
Comcast management is convinced that with the right environment, they can reach across the broad user spectrum to reposition its products and services. To attract a Studio Xfinity customer on a repeat basis, the design must combine the appeal of a dynamic center for electronic communication with the services of friendly local retail resource.
Keen US competition pits Comcast against other highly promotional media forces and product suppliers as such as Verizon and Sprint. The Comcast differentiation strategy is to move into neighborhoods with a wide-ranging customer relationship focus: customers can attend tutorials on Comcast products, pay a bill, check out new technology, or bring a cable box in for service. Customers are referred to as “guests.”
To test their vision for a new visual retail identity - the company operates a nationwide chain of stores and service centers - Comcast selected a mixed-demographic neighborhood in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago for the prototype Studio Xfinity store. Retained to develop the concept and create a multi-purpose environment for visitors of all ages and electronic skill levels was ESI Design, a New York City-based design firm with a specialty in high-tech interiors and displays.
Comcast executive vice president, customer experience Charlie Herrin describes the new Chicago retail facility as a place where consumers can "learn about new products and play with them to see what they're all about.” On display is an assortment of communications devices made by other companies, along with its own series of enabling equipment such as cable modems and wireless routers with telephony adapter, the Sonos Soundbar, video, broadband and home automation gadgets being developed or sold by Comcast.
“We want to build long-term customer relationships,” said Herrin at the Studio Xfinity opening, “so that they get the most out of their Xfinity subscription.”
Gensler is the architect of record, with the interior design and technical presentation systems created by ESI Design, headed by Edwin Schlossberg, the firm’s founder, president, and chief designer.
“Media is the star. It surrounds the visitor,” Schlossberg says. “Overall, Studio Xfinity is a community center where architecture, product displays, and lighting play functional and visually distinctive supportive roles within a technological framework.”
Matt Weisgerber, senior designer in ESI’s physical design group, was involved in the layout, furnishings, and lighting of the main space that allows visitors views of the various activity areas. An 18m linear LED custom ceiling grid is the primary interior design statement. “Its ‘T’ shape extends over 60 percent of the length of the double-height space.” Weisgerber says.
“Our objective for the stylised criss-cross design of the illuminated ceiling is integrated with the geometric layout of equipment, display kiosks, and test-and-play station seating,” Weisberger says. “It complements the giant studio screens that produce the effect of an immersive media environment.”
Recessed spots and floodlights are focused on the displayed products. Ambient illumination is provided by overhead LED linear fixtures, measuring 69cm and 76cm long, suspended at each end. They are angled to emphasize the geometry of the central sculptural T. Visitors bringing products for service or repair are directed to a dedicated space behind the main interactive area.
Customers can test-drive Xfinity products and services on the store’s 46 tablets and touchscreen demo surfaces; play custom-designed multi- and single-player games, and engage with special content and programming in the media-rich entertainment space. Three flexible, multipurpose studios with large LED screens are furnished with theater-style seating. In each studio, customers can interact with each other and the studio screen while playing games.
Media can be programmed to focus on a unique activity or coordinated together for hosting store-wide events, launches, movie premieres or larger-scale games. LED screens and large-scale media installations generate a lively visual setting that surrounds visitors. Media screens and installations display brand messages and live or on-demand programming which can coordinate with each of the store’s studios. All LEDs in the interior are controlled by a back-of-house media server that can be programmed for synchronised media playback.
Studio Xfinity staff complete an intensive seven-week training course which prepares them to help address customers’ needs from within Comcast’s extensive inventory of products and services. Each staff member will also receive specialised hospitality training — this seems natural, given that Universal Studios is part of Comcast’s portfolio.
For customers who want to take a break, the store also offers plenty of leisure corners where they can sit, watch television, browse the internet and enjoy coffee, tea, and other refreshments.
Comcast CEO Roberts has kept close tabs on the Studio Xfinity Chicago prototype: “We started from a clean slate to create a center for fun, entertainment, and information that symbolizes Comcast,” he says. “These changes are all part of our larger effort to improve the customer experience and establish a positive public identity.”
According to Roberts, the company has already renovated or built 128 new Comcast stores to date and plans to reach more than 500 in the next few years. The Studio Xfinity model will be duplicated after a period of reviewing the feedback from the Chicago prototype. “So far, it’s met all of our expectations!” Roberts says.
This story originally appeared in NZRetail magazine issue 743 April / May 2016