By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Best Buy has begun testing a new mall-based format for its freestanding Mobile stores.
The concept shops, known internally as “Mobile Life,” feature an expanded assortment that includes ultraportable notebooks, mobile devices including Slingbox, and iPod and Zune digital music players, in addition to the core cellphone offering.
The first three locations were set to open this month in Illinois, Minnesota and Virginia under the Best Buy Mobile banner.
Best Buy said the boutique-like shops are aimed squarely at women and younger mall shoppers — specifically “tweens” and teenagers — who have shunned the company's big-box stores. At 3,000 square feet, the format is twice the size of Best Buy Mobile's more than 30 stand-alone locations, but is considerably smaller than the typical 20,000- to 45,000-square-foot size of Best Buy's flagship stores.
Mobile Life also leverages Best Buy Mobile's successful operating model, which is characterized by elevated service levels delivered by a separate, specially trained sales staff supported by Geek Squad technicians.
“The new Best Buy Mobile stores are based on one simple idea — technology is better when it works together,” said Shawn Score, president of Best Buy Mobile. “Today, life happens on the go. On good days, technology helps. On bad days, the gadgets don't work. This store is designed to help people get more from their mobile life.”
To that end, Mobile Life, like Best Buy Mobile's in-store departments and standalone stores, will offer:
a wide selection of carriers, handsets and accessories;
simple pricing with no rebates;
the “Walk-Out Working” program, which provides complete phone feature set-up;
repairs and loaner phones; and
impartial advice from a non-commissioned sales staff.
Unlike Best Buy Mobile, the new stores' expanded product assortment includes:
a specialized lineup of laptop, netbook and ultramobile PCs including Apple's MacBook Air, netbooks from Asus and Lenovo, and HTC's Shift Internet tablet;
fashion accessories from Crumpler, Golla and In Case;
iPod and Zune digital music players; and
mobile media devices including Slingbox
Mobile Life will also feature “Experience Zones” where customers can try products and learn how they work together, and “Kids Zones” where consumers can leave their children while they shop. The stores will also be equipped with etching machines that can “tattoo” mobile devices with personalized messages and photos.
The first two Mobile Life stores were scheduled to open mid-month in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Va. A third location is scheduled to launch in Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill., on Oct. 31.
According to a Best Buy spokesperson, the concept is still in the test phase.
The company previously tested a concept store for women called Studio D. The digital imaging boutique, located outside Chicago, was closed after two years in 2006 but afforded Best Buy important insights into female shoppers, the retailer said.
Best Buy Mobile is a two-year-old joint venture with Great Britain's The Carphone Warehouse, and has since been rolled out to all 965 U.S. Best Buy stores and about 30 stand-alone shops. The conversion from Best Buy's previous cellphone sections to Best Buy Mobile's in-store shops drove a strong double-digit gain in U.S. mobile phone connections and a nearly triple-digit gain in same-store sales of mobile phones and accessories during the second quarter, the retailer said.
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