Verizon’s Destination Store provides a personalized experience.
Verizon Wireless Chicago is not your traditional brick-and-mortar store. Instead, the glass-enclosed shopping destination on Michigan Avenue reveals an exciting retail experience from its nearly 35-foot-tall front atrium display tower through two floors of customer interactive AV environments. Correspondingly, we’ll guide you through intriguing zones such as the “Wall of Sound” speaker demo area and the “Device Walls” comprised of touch-enabled video monitors.
Regarding the Verizon Wireless expansion (verizonwireless.com), Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington MN in the Twin Cities metropolitan region was the first Destination Store; Chicago was the second. The Boston Destination Store opened in March 2015, while the Houston location opened in November 2014. A new one will open this summer in Santa Monica CA. We’ll detail Verizon Wireless Chicago here, as well as highlight and compare the MOA store and preview the upcoming Santa Monica facility.
Verizon Wireless lives up to the name of the Magnificent Mile with its Chicago Destination Store. As part of Verizon’s broader brand redesign initiative, the Destination Store introduces new ways of doing business that make shopping for wireless devices and services easier, more convenient and more personalized. Designed by longtime design partner Chute Gerdeman (chutegerdeman.com, Columbus OH), the actual retail space for this wireless wonderland is 10,000 square feet. The Destination Store is packed with the tools and training to integrate technology into any lifestyle. Visitors explore possibilities through interactive displays and digital signage engineered and integrated by McCann Systems (mccannsystems.com, Edison NJ).
This technology playground is fully equipped with the digital essentials for streamlining every way of life. Throughout the store are several lifestyle zones to easily locate today’s crucial tech toys. Interactive displays provide a self-guided exploratory experience while digital signage glows from high-definition videowalls or large-format displays in each zone.
Our first stop on the tour is with Adam Limbach, Vice President, Brand Communications, at Chute Gerdeman, who gave us a design overview. “Brand Communications does pretty much anything that has to do with the brand expression and how it gets expressed in the retail space,” he explained. “That includes making it come to life, whether it’s graphics, signage or merchandising. We literally design concepts from the ground up.”
For Verizon Wireless Chicago, Chute Gerdeman took an existing space, stripped off the veneer and totally created the new architecture, environment and interior design. The design task took about a year.
“The way we lay out the space is based on the customer experience,” he affirmed. “Our goal was to encourage shoppers to shop and explore. So, when you walk in the Chicago Verizon front atrium area, there’s a screen that pulls shoppers in through the space. From an architectural standpoint, the glass lets you see into the space. Rather than small windows, we have a lot of jointed glass where you can see multiple floors. The whole store is AV, including the third-floor Executive Briefing Center. The task was to get people to think of Verizon in a different way, not just for telecommunication packages or new phones. We created a whole different shopping journey. It’s about lifestyles.”
Limbach noted that you can use your mobile phone in different ways. For example, you can connect with Bluetooth headsets or speakers. There are fitness accessories. There are many more areas where Verizon Wireless is tied into merchandising (we’ll cover those later). He explained that McCann Systems was hired to specify the AV. “We do the sizing and make sure the content is the right scale,” he said. “We have to do custom screens for certain areas.”
“AV basically allows us to deliver the experience to the customers in a digital format,” stated Grady Milhon, senior member with planning and engineering at Verizon Wireless (Lincoln NE). “That allows us to be more engaging and interactive with customers as they are going through and experiencing the different lifestyle experiences within our Destination Store format. In terms of our Destination Store deployment, I represent the overall IT, planning and engineering effort. If you look at it from an AV perspective, we would be the interface, with McCann the integrator, interfacing with our Verizon IT.”
Milhon discussed the similarities and differences among the MOA, Chicago and upcoming Santa Monica Destination Stores. “For the most part, the digital experiences stayed the same,” he said. “We initially deployed a lot of digital content in our first store at MOA. When we went to deploy the future stores, we scaled back a little and ended up going back and retrofitting those scale backs at MOA. So, Chicago and MOA are very similar in terms of the AV.”
One major difference is that MOA has a front window where customers can interact with a digital experience from outside the store via a 3×4 videowall. Access is via Displax multitouch foils with an overlay in the store window. Content is constantly being revised and changed throughout the seasons. In contrast, Chicago has a two-story LED videowall in the front atrium that presents the story of Chicago, which includes the fire and the World’s Fair, among other historical features. Custom content plays at the top of the hour, every hour.
The Santa Monica store will have similar interactive experiences, but with a slightly different layout. In comparison, MOA is a single floor, a little bit bigger and more spread out. Chicago is more of a narrow store and three stories high. Santa Monica will be a two-story location.
There’s also a difference in videoconferencing. “In Chicago, we’re just using a software-based WebEx,” said Milhon. “But in Santa Monica, we will be integrating a Cisco codec and will be using Cisco’s videoconferencing platform that will tie in with the Verizon Enterprise Video Telepresence platform. Then we’ll be able to go online, reserve a room and connect to any other Telepresence room within the Verizon organization.”
Verizon’s Interactive AV
McCann Systems worked with Verizon and Verizon’s experience design firm, Chute Gerdeman, for nearly a year, doing tests, mockups and refining the experience to develop the fun, engaging media environment for the stores. All of the AV equipment in each store is controlled, monitored and scheduled by Medialon Manager v6 show control software, running on a PC provided by Verizon’s IT department. Daily equipment startup and shutdown is scheduled locally at each store on the local Medialon system.
To get our bearings, here’s a look at some primary AV features in stores (see the main Chicago Destination Store for details). One of the first video features customers see when entering the stores is the Atrium Wall, a video column consisting of Christie LED panels. Further into the store, shoppers can explore features of various phones and tablets on the Device Wall, two long videowalls flanking each side of the store, 14 displays wide by two high. In the center is the “Brand Focal” videowall, consisting of more than 100 Christie MicroTiles with an interactive experience. A couple of videowall features display larger-than-life content to immerse customers.
Here is a more in-depth look at “Wall of Sound.” The area features Bluetooth speakers arranged on the wall to give the visual appearance of a graphic equalizer. Audio is played via Bluetooth from a phone at the display, and sales associates use a custom iPad app to select which manufacturer’s speakers to listen to. Instead of listening to only one speaker at a time, all speakers from the same manufacturer play simultaneously, or all speakers on the wall together, creating an immersive effect.
McCann connected the audio source phone to a Bluetooth receiver, which feeds the audio to a BSS Soundweb London break-in box. The custom iPad app communicates via WiFi with the Medialon Manager system that, in turn, commands the BSS Soundweb London DSP to route the audio from the Bluetooth receiver to the appropriate outputs, through distribution amplifiers, to the speakers on the wall.
The custom iPad app that the store associates use has different levels of access, depending on each user’s login credentials, which are authenticated through Verizon’s servers. Sales associates can change the speaker routing on the “Wall of Sound,” while store managers can change the audio routing and volume or lighting levels in each zone in the entire store.
McCann’s Josh Navarro developed an API for communication between the Verizon app and the Medialon Manager system. He said that one of the benefits of using a Medialon system is its flexibility. “We knew they wanted to do a lot of unique things,” Navarro said, “Medialon Manager natively controls BSS Soundweb London systems and is flexible with regard to being able to handle as many iPad apps connecting to it as we want. That can be difficult with other control systems.”
In addition to the store locations, Verizon has set up a test site in Ohio to try out new technology and media content before it ever goes in front of customers. Stephen Keppler, Vice President/Senior Sales Executive with McCann Systems, explained, “The Ohio test site is the proving ground, so to speak, for Verizon. Any of the technology and all content must run in the Ohio lab prior to implementation in a store.”
Each store uses consistent design standards for each interactive experience. This allows McCann to design the drawings, paperwork and programming for one store and deploy the design in many locations with minimal adjustments to the documentation and programming, keeping the systems consistent and easy to troubleshoot remotely.
Genise Parker, Director of Operations, McCann Systems, shared challenge/solution observations as program manager during the Verizon Wireless store installs. There was the huge task of installing three stores simultaneously in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest and South.
“McCann’s national footprint made this fairly seamless,” said Parker. “We shared engineering resources from home base [New Jersey], assigned a site foreman and install crew to each location, and shared program manager resources who traveled from site to site. Chicago’s delayed construction schedule challenged us to forge ahead with the AV install under less-than-optimal site conditions, which meant we had to completely rework our installation schedule on the fly each day. We had to make field adjustments to ensure that our equipment was protected from construction dirt and debris while still allowing the software and content providers downstream from us ample time with the experiences prior to the grand opening.
Limited Storage Space
“Storage space in Chicago was limited, so we worked with a local logistics company to stage everything in a warehouse just outside of the city. Given the flux of our installation schedule due to construction delays, someone from our local crew would make the trip to the distribution center to tag items needed for delivery the next day.”
The LED display tower was a major install challenge. “Originally, we spec’d that all out with Verizon and were hoping to have rear access,” related Parker. “We lost that opportunity, so it was quite challenging installing it. We ended up working with the general contractor, doing scaffolding all the way up. Putting in the last row was a real challenge because everything is flush around it. But there still wasn’t any access from the top to have access to the rear. We found a cross-space on the third floor of the building where we were able to crawl through to the back of that last row to get the tower aligned.”
It’s beyond our scope here to include all shopping areas within the store. Thus, we’re highlighting zones with more concentrated AV. First, we’ll explore several videowall areas.
Starting at the front of the store, the Christie Digital Velvet 3mm LED display tower spans the first and second floor. Standing at almost 35 feet tall and just over 10 feet wide, four million pixels radiate from the store interior and out onto Michigan Avenue. Four control units maintain the high-profile display, while a single custom-built PC is equipped with X20 software to manage content and synchronicity throughout the towering monument.
Furthermore, a bevy of HP computers is used to control content throughout the install. “HP is a solid partner of ours,” said Milhon. “We use the HP 800 product to basically drive all the digital interactive content. Through the integration with McCann, we were able to put all those PCs in the back of the house in a mini server room. So, we put them in racks and then extended the video and USB out to the floor using Evertz fiber transmission gear. The HP 800s operating on Windows 7 or 8 run our MDD (Multimedia Digital Display Platform).
Our next videowall stop is the “Brand Focal” wall, which provides animated interactive recreation via a 7’x19′ Christie Digital MicroTile back focal wall system incorporating 107 tiles. Two Microsoft Kinect devices are set to designated areas on the floor, prompting the shopper to create a personal avatar and engage with the software through movement and dance. Dakota directional speakers are mounted above the user to create a concentrated dispersion pattern. “When users come in to engage the wall,” said Parker, “they can do things like throw a football at a target and it keeps your score. You can play drums and go wind surfing.”
On each side of the MicroTile wall is a “Device Wall” with 28 Samsung 46-inch touchscreen LCDs split into a left 8×2 and a right 6×2 matrix configuration. The device area shows every type of device Verizon sells, including tablets and accessories. Thus, you can compare Samsung, Apple, Droid, LG and others.
The “Amplify It” area has a DJ booth and a “Wall of Sound” display. Customer access is via a 3×3 array of 46-inch Samsung screens. The customer can interact with Apple iPad air tablets. “The whole idea is that you’re playing with DJ equipment and testing out headphones and portable speaker systems, trying to figure out what’s best for you,” said Limbach. “People are getting engaged in that experience.” Customers can also sample more than 200 speakers by Bose, Beats by Dre and other manufacturers on the accompanying “Wall of Sound” display.
The “Get Fit” area has a treadmill and fitness bike where visitors can virtually move through streets around the world using Google maps aided by Samsung monitors and Apple iPad tablets.
Larger screens are used in two areas. The “Wireless Workshop” can function as an instructional area. It has a 70-inch Elmo touchscreen for showing store reps Verizon demos and other training presentations. Attendees gather in a wraparound seating area.
The instructor has a Shure wireless microphone. There’s an override on the audio system so instructors won’t have to compete with the store’s background audio.
“Home Solutions” is fashioned like a living room. Various home products are demoed and sold in the area, which has a Samsung 75-inch residential consumer model to match the setting.
Executive Meeting Space
Directly above the retail area on the third floor, the Crestron-controlled Executive Meeting Space, or briefing/conference center, revamped the traditional collaboration area with extensive Samsung screens. There’s a 75-inch LED monitor wall with touch overlays mounted at each end of the room. Because the room is rather long, four 46-inch HD flatscreens are mounted on one wall to ensure that all participants can view presentations.
Four HP 800 PCs running Windows 7 are on a traditional desktop and integrated with the Crestron, which allows users with a wireless keyboard and mouse to interface with the room PCs. One PC is integrated with a Vaddio PTZ camera, so it can be used for WebEx videoconferencing or any other conferencing application that supports USB video. Audio equipment includes ClearOne microphones, Biamp DSP and a Crown amplifier driving four JBL Control 26CT ceiling speakers. Access to all systems is via a Crestron 10-inch touchpanel on the conference table. The rack room is located behind the conference center.
Sound is key in completing this technology-rich retail and collaboration experience. BSS controls the DSP processing for the wireless microphones, the ambient sound and the individual audio zones. There’s a Crown eight-channel amplifier. Background music is provided by Atlas speakers. Control of the audio system is accomplished using a Medialon system that recognizes spoken commands from a Verizon-supplied audio app installed on various tablet devices. The Medialon system also handles the task of powering the system on and off each day. Main Middle Atlantic equipment racks are located on the fourth floor.
Keeping The Clock
We’ve come full circle. We started with an outside view of the atrium display tower, toured the inside AV zones and now we’re looking at the clock on the outside of the building.
“There was an existing analog clock at the very top that the landlord and the city liked a lot,” explained Limbach. “Part of our charge with the landlord in taking this space was that they still wanted to have the clock there. Verizon wanted to make sure it was modernized and reflected their new location on the Magnificent Mile. So we have an LED digital clock that looks like an analog clock. We designed a red clock, which tied in with the branding.”
This writer wishes to extend special thanks to the individuals who supplied background information and coordinated the interviews: JoAnn Arcenal, CTS, Marketing & Corporate Resources, McCann Systems; and Amanda Seevers, Chute Gerdeman. Well done, folks.