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Comcast Betting On Retail For Brand Rehab

It’s no trade secret that telecom companies aren’t consumers’ favorite retailers on the planet. Between nebulous appointment windows and an alleged tendency to fiddle with customers’ Internet speeds, ISPs like Comcast have earned less-than-sterling reputations in the eyes of many consumers. According to Consumer Reports’ most recent survey on ratings for 24 cable companies, Comcast was among the “bottom dwellers” in terms of customer satisfaction.

“Along with death and taxes, lousy cable service seems to be one of life’s certainties,” Consumers Reports wrote. “…Consumers continued to express dissatisfaction with their TV and Internet providers, giving most poor reviews for value and overall satisfaction.”

So how can the telecom industry and Comcast in particular shrug this reputation of low-quality service that borders on open distaste from consumers? Five years ago, a boilerplate plan to upgrade customer outreach might have flown with investors, but as The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this year, Comcast decided to go in a different direction by launching a number of retail storefronts in a bid to reimagine the Comcast customer experience.

Speaking to the paper, John Crowley, senior vice president of Comcast’s Chicago region, explained how the telecom giant has expanded its physical footprint in Chicagoland in recent years to include four full-fledged retail stores and 27 service centers. However, at the heart of the brand’s retail redesign is its flagship “Studio Xfinity” store, opened in July, located minutes from the Lincoln Park Zoo and the shores of Lake Michigan. Less a place where customers can trade in broken remotes and more an epicenter of ways, Comcast wants to reconnect with its disgruntled customer base. Studio Xfinity is being heralded by Crowley as the dawn of a new day for the company.

“Studio Xfinity is a transformational retail environment designed to give our customers an entirely new way to experience our products and services,” Crowley told The Chicago Tribune. “Studio Xfinity is a significant investment and is part of a much larger effort underway here in Chicago and around the country to redefine the customer experience.”

What can customers actually do at Studio Xfinity? The 9,000-square-foot store isn’t set up to showcase normal Comcast products, but rather to let shoppers interact with cutting-edge branded virtual reality headsets and tablet technology. Customers can also skip the painful process of waiting for a service van to arrive at their homes by booking troubleshooting appointments with in-store associates.

Indeed, much of the store’s design seems to be focused on giving the Comcast brand a face that isn’t defined solely by missed appointment windows and spotty service. The National Retail Foundation reported that Studio Xfinity boasts more than 800 square feet in LED screens, with a 107-foot long digital banner installation ringing around the top of the store.

Comcast’s need for a brand reinvention becomes quite clear when you look at data that suggest the next generational crop of TV watchers are more likely than not to get their entertainment fix elsewhere. According to the Consumer Reports survey, about 60 percent of consumers ages 18 to 25 pay for a traditional TV subscription, and just 65 percent of those ages 26 to 35 do the same.

Will one tricked-out retail storefront be enough to stop Comcast’s slide into shoppers’ blacklists forever? Probably not, but with fewer younger consumers paying for cable and more subscription-based options available online every day, a recognizable retail presence can serve as an effective reminder of the brand’s more positive qualities.

After all, even though it might take a while, performing business as usual for Comcast could just lead them to no business at all.

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