Uber decision deferred, $41 million for Edmonton City Centre, have your say on the budget

I’m trying something new, where I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. I’ll organize them here. Have feedback? Let me know!

Uber Decision Deferred

Today was the big Council meeting to discuss the proposed Vehicle for Hire Bylaw. Last week the City informed the media they’d need to pickup a press badge in order to be present today, and security was increased at City Hall in anticipation of heated protests. But despite a few minor outbursts during the meeting, it all felt a little underwhelming. Many Councillors used the opportunity to get on their respective soapboxes to complain about whatever – some ripped into Uber, some expressed anger at Administration, and one or two questioned why we regulate taxis at all. But that was the only drama, because in the end Council asked for more information and deferred a decision on the bylaw until late January.

Make no mistake, Uber is going to walk away from this whole situation happy. Why? Because there’s a lot more Edmontonians that want to see Uber here as an option than there are Edmontonians willing to speak up for the taxis. Council is hearing loud and clear from constituents that they want Uber in Edmonton, and that’s the most effective way to get Council to budge on something. And even if the rules that do eventually get passed aren’t ideal for Uber, they may be good enough as Councillor Walters points out. They’re threatening to leave now because it helps them secure a better negotiating position. But once there are rules to play by, it’s a simple business decision – can they make money following those rules or not?

$41 million for Edmonton City Centre

Today via Ted Bauer I saw that Oxford Property Group is planning to invest $41.3 million to “revitalize the entire retail experience” of Edmonton City Centre. A big part of the plan is to “relocate and significantly upgrade” the food courts. Currently located on the lowest level of the mall, one on the west and one on the east, the existing food courts will be consolidated centrally on the top level (as is now common in other malls and shopping centres).

Edmonton City Centre
Edmonton City Centre, photo by IQRemix

The news release mentions that “over 23,000 new residents are expected to be living downtown by 2019.” It’s great to see that Edmonton City Centre is looking at this as an opportunity and that they’re willing to invest in order to compete with Ice District. There are already a lot of empty spaces in the mall, including many that have been empty for months or even years. With a new hotel, new theatre, and lots of other retail moving just a block or two away into new buildings in Ice District, it was starting to look like Edmonton City Centre would be even emptier in just a few years.

I would suggest this investment is the minimum necessary in order for Edmonton City Centre to compete. And their relative silence on all the development happening downtown was not inspiring much confidence, so this is a nice surprise. But let’s keep it real, ok? Here’s what the Oxford site currently says:

“There’s a huge buzz coming out of downtown Edmonton—and it’s resonating entirely from Edmonton City Centre.”

That’s a bit of a stretch! Still, good to see them willing to make a play for a piece of the pie.

Have your say on the 2016-2018 Operating Budget

We’re in the middle of budget season, as you are probably aware. On Monday, November 23 a non-statutory public hearing will be held at City Hall from 1:30pm to 9:30pm. It’s an opportunity for you to speak directly to City Council about the proposed budget before a decision is made in early December. If you’d like to register to speak, you can do so here.

The full budget is available at edmonton.ca/budget2016. If you’d like a friendly introduction and overview to the budget, check out yegcitybudget.ca. And finally, if you’re a geek like me and want to dig into the data, budget.edmonton.ca is the best place to start.

The final budget discussions get underway starting November 27.

TELUS focuses on the connected lifestyle with its new store at Edmonton’s Southgate Centre

In today’s world, the smartphone is at the centre of almost every digital experience. In addition to a smartphone, many of us carry headphones, perhaps a battery pack, a fitness tracker, and maybe even a cable or two. The smartphone itself connects to a whole world of other devices on top of that, like so-called “smart” locks, thermostats, speakers, and video cameras. Can TELUS capitalize on this brave new world with its new store to change the way you buy electronics and perhaps make TELUS your preferred partner for the connected lifestyle?

Back in 2008 I wrote about the brand new Future Shop in South Edmonton Common, described at the time as “the future of Future Shop”. It was a curious time to be launching a fancy new electronics store – just a month or so before it opened, Circuit City down in the US had filed for bankruptcy protection. The Source had recently shut down more than 60 stores across the country and its parent company InterTAN had just filed for bankruptcy protection too. It took a bit longer until Best Buy felt the effects of online shopping, but in the last five years they’ve been hit hard with declining revenue (though recently have become profitable again). Earlier this year, Best Buy discontinued the Future Shop brand and closed 66 locations across the country, including that store in South Edmonton Common. And down in the US, RadioShack filed for bankruptcy protection too. It has been a rough decade for bricks & mortar electronics retailers.

But maybe it’s too easy to blame online shopping and showrooming for the difficulties facing Best Buy. The Apple Store has had incredible success during that same time period and is still expanding today, and others like Microsoft have followed suit with their own stores. Why go to Best Buy when you can go right to the source? Not to mention the experience of shopping at a Best Buy is nothing like shopping at an Apple Store. Maybe there’s hope for electronics retailers after all?

New TELUS Store at Southgate

It’s with all that in mind that I accepted an invitation to check out the new TELUS Store at Southgate Centre here in Edmonton. I joined fellow blogger Nugglemama for a tour of the new space, located directly across from the old TELUS Store near the stairs in the southeast part of the mall. Marc Jamieson, Director of Marketing, Merchandising, and Design at TELUS and Koodo, was in town to show us around and to explain all of the features of the new store.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The existing TELUS Store at Southgate was about 640 square feet, and it’s safe to say it was a traditional phone company store (it will soon become a Koodo store). Most of the space inside was dedicated to counters where you’d spend lots of time waiting for a phone activation. There was very little product on display, and the whole environment was fairly uninviting. A few years ago TELUS launched its “G2” stores to try to change that perception. They were larger, brighter, and featured more phones and a limited amount of other merchandise, like cases and chargers. But they also made heavy use of digital screens and more or less kept the same core interaction – a TELUS employee on one side of a desk and you on the other. I’ve visited the G2 store at Edmonton City Centre a few times, and while it has always been a positive experience, I do find the store somewhat unfriendly thanks to the cold surfaces and dozens of screens.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

Now TELUS is introducing a new generation of store with some much bigger changes. The new Southgate store and the new store at Toronto’s Eaton Centre are “Connected Experience concept stores” that TELUS says “are an evolution of our retail shopping journey.” There are currently no plans for additional new stores, but if these two are successful you can bet that will change.

“There’s no doubt that our smartphones are a central part of our lives and how we’re using them changes almost daily – from listening to tunes, to tracking our fitness to monitoring our home – our devices can really enrich our lives. With our new Connected Experience stores we’ve created a playground where customers can touch, test and play with more than 1,000 specially curated products that help enhance their digitally connected life.”

The new TELUS Store is the largest in Canada at roughly 3,400 square feet. It officially opened on October 21, just eight months after the original concept was created (the Eaton Centre store opened October 14). It features a bold green exterior and a wide entrance, and is immediately more welcoming than previous stores. As you walk in a greeter will say hello, and you’ll find the store roughly split in half. The left side is where you can go to quickly purchase merchandise, and the right side is where you’ll go to sign up for a TELUS service.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

But perhaps the most obvious difference from other TELUS stores is the array of non-TELUS products on display and available for purchase. You can’t miss the Fitbit and Nest displays, for instance. The new TELUS Store features a series of categories, each with an anchor product partner. You’ll find:

  • Health & Fitness, anchored by Fitbit
  • Audio, anchored by Beats
  • Essentials, anchored by Mophie
  • Fashion, anchored by Kate Spade
  • Devices, anchored by Apple and Samsung
  • Lifestyle, anchored by GoPro
  • Home, anchored by Nest and Optik

Each category anchor can change over time, and there are more brands available in each. For instance, there is also Sonos, Bang & Olufsen, Jaybird, and many others available in Audio alongside Beats. The Fashion section (bags and cases) features Kate Spade but also Ted Baker and Rebecca Minkoff. Prices are comparable to other retailers.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The items you’ll find at the TELUS store are all connected to the smartphone in some way. Fitbits, headphones, Mophies, Nest, and even toy drones, are all things you pair with your smartphone. I asked Marc if there were some things that just don’t belong in a TELUS store, noting the lack of laptops. Marc said that “there are things we have decided not to focus on, and laptops are one of those things.” He noted that even the tablet display was pretty basic. The focus is on “connected experience” devices – things you need a smartphone to get the most out of.

The new store is staffed more heavily than other stores, and all the staff have been trained on how to use all of the various products available. There’s a real focus on demoing, so you’re invited to try everything on display, and the staff all carry devices with the necessary software to show you how things work. I asked Marc if he was worried about showrooming, and he said he’s so confident in the training of the reps that he’s not concerned.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

There are some pretty cool displays to help with all that demoing, like the interactive sound bar for wireless speakers. It uses an app built by Stingray Music to allow you to compare different speakers and different styles of music. Above each table are attractive sound-dampening features, something you’ll find throughout the store actually.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The new store has incorporated lots of feedback based on previous stores and also research that TELUS has done at its retail lab in Scarborough. There’s more quantity and variety of seating, because customers often spend a lot of time in the store. While the G2 stores featured Optik and other Future Friendly Home devices, they were hidden away. The new store puts them out in the open so that customers can better envision how the boxes will fit into their homes. There’s also a kid-friendly area and lots of carpet in the store. Instead of a single retail counter, there are eight point-of-sale stations throughout the store.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

Near the front of the store you’ll find a recharge station for your mobile device, and on the tables throughout the store are wireless charging pads (which my Lumia worked with immediately). There’s also free Wi-Fi at the store, though it wasn’t working on the day I visited. All of these things are open to all, even non TELUS subscribers!

To celebrate the grand opening of the new stores in Edmonton and Toronto, TELUS is offering 15% off accessories until November 23. They’re also encouraging you to share your experience on social media using the hashtag #ExploreTELUS. If you do, you’ll be entered to win one of the prizes they’re giving away weekly until December 14.

So, will I shop there?

I really liked the new store. It feels warm and welcoming especially when compared with its predecessors. There’s a lot to see and do in the store, and it definitely will feel approachable to anyone who likes the Apple Store in that it is experiential. When I made the comparison, Marc felt strongly that “aesthetically they are different” however, even if only thanks to the liberal use of the green and purple brand colors.

I can’t see myself buying my next Fitbit at the new TELUS Store, however. When it comes to electronics, I do a lot of research online. I compare and read and watch reviews and look up specs. I dig into forums and sift through social media to see what real people are saying and what issues they’ve run into. Then when I know exactly what I want to buy, I look around and compare prices. Often Amazon wins, especially as I’m a Prime member. The new TELUS Store isn’t competing on price and despite promises that the staff are exceptionally well-trained, I’m skeptical that they’ll have the level of knowledge that I would be looking for.

That said, as a TELUS mobile customer (since the Clearnet days!) I like the idea of a flagship store and would definitely visit the next time I need a SIM card or to talk with someone about my plan. It’s the same reason why I visit the Apple Store or the Microsoft Store – I expect a better experience and the flagship stores offer that.

But I’m probably not the target customer anyway. Marc mentioned that the new store has seen a large increase in foot traffic, and it’s the folks that are either casually looking or not willing to do all of that research that are the real target for TELUS. Have a smartphone and interested in getting an activity tracker? Head to the TELUS Store and they can help you get setup with the one that works best with your device.

It’s unlikely that selling Fitbits or Nests is going to measurably impact the $12 billion in revenue that TELUS generates each year. But if the new store can indeed become a hub for customers looking for the connected lifestyle, then it could positively impact wireless, Internet, and Optik subscriptions which is what TELUS really wants. The new store is about creating that halo effect. Will the new TELUS store be the last of its kind or the start of a successful strategy shift? Time will tell!

Win a Nest or Jaybird X2!

After I visted the store, TELUS was kind enough to send me a gift basket. Included inside were a couple of pretty expensive items which would be inappropriate for me to keep, so I’m giving them away to two lucky readers!

Nest and Jaybird X2

To enter my contest, simply leave a comment below by November 30 telling me how you currently like to purchase electronics and if you plan to shop at the new TELUS store. I’ll draw two valid email addresses at random from the comments and will contact the winners on December 1. Just in time to help with your Christmas shopping!

A look at Edmonton’s new Future Shop

Tonight I had the opportunity to tour Edmonton’s newest Future Shop, located in South Edmonton Common. The 53,000 square foot building is easily the largest Future Shop in existence, nearly double the size of the average store. The new Edmonton store is the result of more than two years of planning, design work, and customer consultation to come up with the future of Future Shop. That’s a tall order, but I came away impressed.

New Future Shop in Edmonton

About a dozen of my fellow social media experts were invited to check out the new store this evening. We split into two groups to tour the building. General Manager Chris Sallans led my group, and did an excellent job of describing the decisions that were made and what the vision is for the new store. He and his fellow Future Shop colleagues answered all of our questions along the way. We each received a gift bag at the end (containing a Jabra Noise Blackout BT530 Bluetooth Headset), as well as light refreshments. I was a little disappointed when I got to the store to find that it was already open to the public, but by the end I had come to appreciate the way they planned things. Nearly a dozen employees were at our disposal, and in retrospect it would have seemed creepy and oddly quiet if we were the only ones inside the gigantic building!

The layout of the store is quite simple. There’s a large circular area in the centre known as ConnectPro. It’s broken into Play, Work, On The Go, and Living. Associates in the circle are there solely to help you figure the technology out, they aren’t meant to sell you anything. The other sections are located around the circle, along the edge of the building. Counterclockwise as you enter: cell phones are followed by computers (with the onsite garage for auto entertainment behind), the Mac section, home entertainment and televisions, the new musical instruments section, gaming and media, appliances, fitness, and finally the checkout counters.

The musical instruments section was our “home base” for the evening, fitting as it is the most unique part of the new Future Shop design. I’m not an instrument geek, but it seemed really impressive. In total it’s about 2500 square feet. The far wall is full of guitars, and other instruments are in the middle. There are two sound-proof rooms in the back for drums and acoustic guitars (this one also has special temperature and humidity controls). Near the front are computer workstations where customers can riff on a guitar and burn a CD using Garage Band or other popular software. Very cool.

New Future Shop in EdmontonNew Future Shop in Edmonton

The Mac section of the store is about 2000 square feet, and features a Genius Bar staffed by an Apple employee from Wednesday to Sunday. Not that I expected it to, but the Mac section just doesn’t compare to an actual Mac store. It felt out of place sandwiched between the televisions and computer software.

I think my least favorite section of the store was the cell phone section. Maybe it’s because of the ongoing construction, but it didn’t seem to offer anything beyond what every other electronics retailer has. I appreciate the desks and chairs for customers and employees to sign contracts and all that, but the phone displays themselves still seemed rather mundane.

My favorite sections were the ConnectPro, which seemed very open and inviting, and the gaming trees (there are three of them located throughout the store). With about 46 television screens of varying sizes on each tree, you can’t help but stop and gawk for a few minutes. I can’t imagine how much power they use, but the trees are very visually appealing and functional.

I asked about the checkout counters, as that is usually the most frustrating part of any store for me. I hate line-ups. Chris said there are eight sales tills, and eight customer service tills, up from the usual two. In addition, the lanes are far wider than normal. He said that the onus is on him to ensure customers are moved through efficiently.

Here’s a quick walk through the store from start to finish:

A few other notes on the store:

  • They are going for a Silver level LEED certification with the new building.
  • There will be completely free and open Wi-Fi in the store starting Friday, under a “Future Shop” SSID. We tried it tonight but it wasn’t fully operational (only local access).
  • I asked about parking, and although they said they had the largest lot in South Common, it doesn’t look any bigger than Wal-Mart’s, and definitely not bigger than Ikea’s. It certainly has far more parking than Best Buy though. As an aside, Sharon doesn’t think it’s right for a building that you have to drive to to be LEED certified!
  • The main difference between the Appliances section in the new store and what Future Shop’s already have, is the way they are displayed. Instead of ovens on shelves, think built out kitchens similar to what you’d find in Home Depot.

The store soft-opened on Sunday afternoon, but the grand opening is from Friday, December 5th until Sunday, December 7th. The first 100 people in line will receive a free gift card of $5, $25, or $50 and there are a ton of door crasher deals. There’s also a Rock Band competition taking place, with the winner getting a chance to take on Gene Simmons on Saturday! On Sunday, Oilers captain Ethan Moreau will be there signing autographs.

[geo_mashup_map height=”200″ width=”575″ zoom=”13″]

Thanks to Future Shop and Capulet for the opportunity to check out the store! I think there are some really unique aspects to it, and I look forward to hearing the reaction from other Edmontonians. You can see all my photos and video at Flickr.

Edmonton is home to the future of Future Shop

future shop Edmonton is getting another Future Shop location, just in time for Christmas. The new store will be quite different than our existing five, however, and not just because it is LEED certified. Located in South Edmonton Common just minutes away from Best Buy (which owns Future Shop), the new store will fill its gigantic 53,000 square foot space with musical instruments, exercise equipment, and other goods not normally found at Future Shop. From the Edmonton Journal:

“This is the future of Future Shop,” said Chris Sallans, general manager of a store so revolutionary, he calls it a “laboratory.” If the concepts work, it will serve as a template for the Burnaby, B.C.-based chain’s stores around the country.

Essentially they want to sell things that are “logical extensions” of products that they already carry. Makes sense to me. Future Shop already sells microwaves, refrigerators, and other home appliances, so why not treadmills and other exercise equipment? Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. I guess the innovation is in having the much larger capacity.

The music angle is quite interesting though:

Electronic music instruments and equipment may also seem to be an unlikely choice, but Sallans said it’s a wide-open market.

“Musical instruments are an $800-million industry and no other major retailer touches it.”

The store will have a wall of more than 100 guitars. There will be three soundproof rooms for music lessons and drum demos ,and a stage for open-mike nights.

That could be pretty cool, I think. Who knows, maybe Future Shop will even become a bit of a third place (or maybe not, considering you’ll basically need to drive to get there…good old South Edmonton Common).

According to the article, Sallan describes Future Shop as the place for early adopters whereas Best Buy is the place for self-service shoppers. I’m not sure where he got that idea, but I seem to recall the lines at Best Buy being much longer than at Future Shop for high profile product launches (like the Xbox 360).

The new store is looking for 230 employees, and will be holding a job fair this weekend at the Delta Hotel Edmonton South. It should open in early December.

The Apple Store opens in West Edmonton Mall

This morning the brand new Apple Store in West Edmonton Mall finally opened. Sharon and I arrived at 9:15am, and found ourselves at the back of a line roughly 200 people long. A few of the people I talked to near the front of the line had been waiting since 6am, and apparently one guy camped out overnight. That’s the kind of dedication one would expect for the launch of an Apple Store.

Almost there!

As the grand opening time of 10am neared, the sales associates exited the store cheering and proceeded to run the length of the line, high-fiving everyone as they went. It was a nice way to say “thanks for waiting!” Eventually they opened the doors and started letting people in. Before we knew it we were entering the store, shaking hands with the greeters who continued to cheer. Each person received a little white box which contained a black T-shirt that reads “West Edmonton” with an Apple logo beside it. I was amazed that they just continued to let people in…there were probably fifty employees to begin with, so the place was just packed!

My first experience with an Apple Store was at the flagship outlet on Fifth Avenue in New York back in December. The WEM store is quite a bit smaller (and doesn’t have the wicked glass cube overtop) but it still contains all of the elements that I love about Apple Stores: free Wi-Fi, the Genius Bar, roaming sales clerks with wireless payment devices, and of course, lots of excellent Apple gadgets.

Grand OpeningLined up outside the Apple StoreInside the Apple StorePicture in PictureGenius BarT-Shirt Boxes

We hung around for a bit, used the free Wi-Fi, chatted with people we ran into, and eventually I bought a Universal iPod Dock (had to buy something!). They were still giving out free T-shirts when we left just after 11am. We’ll have to wait and see what effect, if any, the Apple Store has on Westworld Computers but either way I’m glad that Edmonton is now a “have” city.

There were lots of people with digital still and video cameras (lots of Flips actually) so it’s safe to say that the grand opening was well-documented. You can see all of my photos and videos of the grand opening here.

I wish they all could be Apple Stores

Inside the Apple StoreOne of the first places I went in New York after checking into the hotel was the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. I had been looking forward to it for a very long time, and as I wrote that night, I was not disappointed. Sharon and I spent some time wandering around before I bought my iPod touch. The whole experience was really good, save for the cashier not knowing what to do with my Canadian debit card.

I’m not the only one who has been impressed with Apple’s retail experience this year.

Apple now derives 20 percent of its revenue from its physical stores. And the number is growing. In the fourth quarter in 2007, which ended Sept. 30, Apple reported that the retail stores accounted for $1.25 billion of Apple’s $6.2 billion in revenues, a 42 percent increase over the fourth quarter in 2006.

Not only has the company made many of its stores feel like gathering places, but the bright lights and equally bright acoustics create a buzz that makes customers feel more like they are at an event than a retail store.

In a way, I think Apple is "Starbucking" the technology retail experience. More than coffee, Starbucks offers a place to be. By allowing customers to sit and play with iPods and MacBooks, Apple is doing the same thing – selling community. The key phrase from above is "feel like gathering places".

Trust me, once you’ve been to an Apple store you’ll start wishing every retail experience could be so good.

It’s just too bad there aren’t more of them.

Read: NYTimes.com

Ikea to sell electronics?

Post ImageMaybe the next time you visit Ikea, the computer sitting on the desk will be a real one that you can buy. Maybe you’ll see a beautiful HDTV perched atop a familiar Ikea TV stand. It could happen (via Agenda Inc.):

Ikea could be next in a long list of retailers to move into the electricals market after Anders Dahlvig, chief executive, said that the company is considering adding electricals to its iconic furniture. In light of electricals’ positive market outlook, Ikea’s brand strength and its vast store footprints, selling electricals could prove a sound move by Ikea.

I think we have enough electronics retailers already, but I have to admit, it does make a lot of sense for Ikea. You can already buy an entire room (furniture/decoration at least) from Ikea, why not the stuff that goes in it?

Read: CBRonline.com

Starbucks: 87,000 Drink Combinations

Post ImageAnd you thought deciding between a Grande and a Venti was hard! In the December 18th issue of Time there is a really great article about Starbucks and the challenges it faces as it grows. Currently there are around 12,440 locations worldwide and the goal is to expand to 40,000 – more than even McDonald’s. Also included in accompanying graphics are some interesting stats, such as the number of drink combinations:

Historically, Starbucks has done a great job at balancing new ideas with efficiency, says Frances Frei, a professor at Harvard business school who has studied the company. A classic example: the way it trains us to order in Starbucks jargon, grande this and half-caff that. Serving tens of thousands of possible drink combinations would be an operational nightmare were it not for a regimented logic to ordering, a marketing flourish that helps establish the atmosphere of an Italian cafe.

I always chuckle when people walk into Starbucks and order a non-fat, extra-hot, double-shot, no-whip, blah blah blah kind of drink. Why do they even bother drinking the coffee? I had never really thought about these combinations from the perspective of Starbucks, however. When you consider the 87,000 possible combinations, it’s amazing that half of Starbucks locations average 3 minutes per customer (less than 60% do according to the article).

I’ll probably still chuckle when someone orders what sounds to me like an incredibly complex drink, but at least now I’ll know this: it could have been worse!

Read: Time