Comcast's lush new storefronts are reminiscent of Apple Stores

Charisse Jones
Comcast launched a new interactive Xfinity retail store, created to provide customers an immersive destination to discover Xfinity products and services.
Source: BusinessWire

Curl up with a cup of coffee and enjoy the free WiFi. Use a tablet computer to try out a mix of apps. Check out the latest big screen TV.

Those experiences have become familiar at the local Starbucks or some electronics stores like Best Buy or Apple. But there's a company offering those perks and more, one not generally thought of as a retailer.

It's Comcast.

Consumers may love to hate their cable companies, but Comcast is betting its new retail stores with giant video screens and comfy couches will help strengthen its connection to customers. There will be zones where they can try out products ranging from Comcast's X1 video player to smart locks controlled with the tap of an iPad.

Comcast plans to set up shop in malls and shopping centers, sometimes moving into spaces that more traditional chains have left empty after struggling with slipping sales.

Source: BusinessWire

The stores will be more akin to the sleek, interactive spaces pioneered by tech titan Apple, designed as much around experiencing gadgets as they are to selling them.

"We're opening . . . next to the Apples and Sephoras and Ultas ,'' Tom DeVito, Comcast's senior vice president of retail sales and service said. "We want to be where customers shop."

Comcast has already opened stores in Pueblo, Colo.; Aventura, Fla.; Henrico, Va.; Chattanooga, Tenn., and Tucson, Ariz. It plans to open more than 50 additional locations this year. It ultimately wants to have one of the storefronts within a 15 minute drive of every Comcast customer.

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The new Xfinity store format stands in stark contrast to the Internet and cable company's spartan service centers of old, where customers often had to travel to inconvenient office parks to pay a bill or return a faulty modem.

It's a smart move, says Neil Saunders, managing director of retail consultancy GlobalData.

"Customers spend a lot on cable and internet services, so being able to try out products and services in a high-quality environment is appreciated,'' Saunders says. " The days of getting away with a shabby service desk in a dimly lit unit have long since gone."

Comcast customers will be able to continue taking care of routine tasks like paying bills or swapping out equipment at the new stores. But they will also be able to try out Xfinity apps with various devices in different sections of the store.

Customers who subscribe to the internet service can check out a mobile offering that allows them to pay for data by the gigabyte if they choose. And in the store's "home zone,'' customers can use Xfinity's Home platform to flip on a light or review security camera footage with the click of a smartphone, tablet or TV remote control.

A TV monitor will simulate the customer being at home.

"From your smartphone, you can shut the light off on the display,'' says DeVito. "From an iPad, you can unlock the door. You can set the sensors in your garage, you can dim your light. We've created a set of interactive displays that simulate you being in your home so we can make the product come to life.''

DeVito added that "we think as customers come into our stores and learn how to fully use all the capabilities of our products... that will drive better retention, a better customer experience (and) more loyalty."

Disclosure: Comcast is parent of NBCUniversal and CNBC.