AT&T's Revamped Stores: Don't Mention You-Know-Who

AT&T (NYSE:T) is getting rid of its checkout counters. The mobile carrier is remodeling all its stores, starting with 15 to 20 that should be done by the end of 2013, All Things D reported on Thursday (Aug. 1). And yes, they look a lot like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Stores—but with more wood.

The revamped stores, which also crib ideas from the 10,000-square-foot flagship store the chain opened a year ago on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, will do sales transactions on associate-carried tablets (AT&T didn't announce which kind), display lots of products and encourage lots of tables for training and demonstrations. A typical store will be 3,000 to 3,500 square feet.

The first updated store was scheduled to open on Thursday (Aug. 1) in La Grange, Ill., southwest of Chicago.

There's a dance that seems to be going on among some retailers to avoid saying what everyone knows to be true: These new-format stores aren't fresh new blank-slate retail experiments. They're Apple Store copies—usually well-thought-through copies that make appropriate changes to the formula that Apple itself adjusts for different locations, but they are what they are.

Why AT&T seems so intent on dodging the obvious isn't clear, but there are a few possibilities. One reason could be that Apple is both a major AT&T partner with the iPhone and iPad, and also a major AT&T retail competitor.

Another is the fact that Apple may soon be in the retail payments business for chains other than its own, which would make it a head-to-head competitor with Isis, the mobile-payments consortium of which AT&T is a founder.

That, of course, raises other issues that AT&T didn't talk about when it announced the new stores. Will those stores accept Isis payments? Will it promote Isis-related equipment and payments in the new stores (or, for that matter, in its pre-revamp stores)? And just how strained is that business relationship with Apple likely to become if the competition with one of its most important suppliers gets a lot more pointed?

For more:

- See this All Things D story

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