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!

Downtown Edmonton’s Sobeys on 104 Street will close its doors on July 31

After six years of serving the central downtown Edmonton area, Sobeys will close its 104 Street location on July 31. It’s a disappointing end to a store that, while full of promise at its launch in May 2008, never really lived up to its potential. It’s also a high profile loss for 104 Street, which has seen a number of businesses close over the last year or so, and a potential setback for Edmonton’s ongoing downtown revitalization.

Keri Scobie, Communications Manager for Sobeys West, confirmed the closure yesterday. “It was a really tough decision to make,” she told me. “We knew this was going to be a hot topic of discussion.”

Sobeys on 104 Street

Why has Sobeys decided to close the 104 Street location? The bottom line is…it’s all about the bottom line.

A spokesperson told the Globe and Mail late Wednesday that Sobeys had “identified a number of underperforming stores and we have made the decision to close these stores.” It appears the 104 Street location is one of those underperforming stores, and there approximately 50 in total across the country, according to a Sobeys news release:

“Sobeys has determined that consistently underperforming retail stores, representing approximately 50 stores (1.5 million of total gross square footage) and 3.8 percent of the total retail network gross square footage, will close. Approximately sixty percent of the affected stores are located in Western Canada.”

Sobeys is planning to close three other stores in Edmonton as well: Sobeys Mainstreet in Mill Woods at 6440 28 Avenue, Heritage Sobeys at 2011 111 Street, and Clock IGA at 15445 Stony Plain Road. Employees received letters upon arriving at work yesterday informing them of the planned closures. They’ll have the option of transferring to another location. “We have a lot of vacancies at other stores in Edmonton,” Keri said.

In order to get approval for its purchase of Safeway Canada, Sobeys agreed to sell 30 stores in Western Canada. Co-op agreed to purchase three stores in Edmonton and another three in the region, and the fact that the 104 Street location wasn’t one of them was seen as a vote of confidence from Sobeys. Now Sobeys has made it clear that assumption was invalid.

Two Urban Fresh locations in Toronto are also closing, but the second Edmonton location at College Plaza will remain open, as will ten other locations throughout Ontario.

From Urban Fresh to Closure

At the start, it seemed as though Sobeys wouldn’t have any problem attracting customers. “Again and again, the staff at the front door of the new Sobeys on Jasper Avenue and 104th Street smile and apologize, as they turn away would-be customers,” Paula Simons wrote in May 2008, just days before the store officially opened to the public.

When it first opened, the Sobeys on 104 Street was meant to bring a European-style market to downtown. It was the first location to bring Sobeys’ “urban fresh” concept to life – smaller, featuring local food, more prepared items, a cafe, and other urban-friendly amenities. Relationships with the popular City Market were touted, and excitement was high. While initial feedback was mostly positive, it wasn’t long before elements of the initial vision started to fall away. The building still retains the “urban fresh” branding, but that long ago lost any meaning.

Sobeys on 104 Street

In the summer of 2011, Sobeys on 104 Street caused an uproar in the community when it covered its windows with vinyl. Over the first three years of its existence, the store had fully transformed from “urban fresh” to just another grocery store, and residents saw the vinyl windows as the last straw. Sobeys responded to the criticism by meeting with the community and partially removing the vinyl coverings. The communications director at the time, Mike Lupien, indicated that Sobeys wanted to make the store work. “It’s a community store, it’s a neighbourhood store,” Mike said. “We want to be here, and we want to be here for the long-term.”

Today Keri elaborated on why the 104 Street location was identified for closure. “What happens is the size of the store impacts our ability to deliver our brand promise,” she said. “The smaller formats make it harder to deliver what we want to deliver.” She noted the coffee bar takes up quite a bit of room, and shoppers have complained about the smaller selection of products available. I asked her if any alternatives were considered, such as renovating and changing the layout, but she said “given the space and what we have, it was determined it was the best decision to close.”

As a resident on the street, I’m sad to see the Sobeys close. It was great to be able to walk down the block to pickup some milk or a last minute ingredient. I do think the store suffered from long lineups at the checkout (and no express or self-checkouts) and generally indifferent staff, and that made the experience of shopping there much less enjoyable than it could have been. Though prices did come down over the years, they were still higher than other locations, such as Save-On-Foods over on 109 Street.

What’s the impact on downtown?

Cecil Place is the name of the building that houses Sobeys Urban Fresh, named in recognition of the infamous Cecil Hotel. Developed by John Day who purchased the old hotel in May 2003, Cecil Place was designed by Arndt Tkalcic Bengert Architecture and cost $12.6 million to build (it took 14 months to complete). In 2007, it won an Edmonton Urban Design Award. Jurors commented at the time, “if you want to get people downtown this is the way to do it.”

Cecil Place in March 2008, photo by Dave Sutherland

The closure is a loss for 104 Street and downtown, no question. It’s not fatal however, and with new condo towers well underway and the addition of Earth’s General Store in place of the old Pangea organic market further north on 104 Street, I don’t believe the loss of Sobeys will have a lasting impact. Demand will continue to grow as more and more people choose to live downtown and all those new condo towers fill up, and I imagine finding a new tenant for the space today will be much easier than it was back in 2007. Unlike in the past, 104 Street isn’t a gamble anymore.

Sobeys leased the space in Cecil Place, there will be no covenants impacting the ability of another grocer to move in. “That’s not applicable for this location,” Keri clarified. She said the majority of the Sobeys locations being closed were leased.

“If there is a positive,” Keri told me, “it’s that there is a lot of exciting development on the street really reinvigorating that neighbourhood.” However, the bright future of 104 Street wasn’t enough to save the store. “Closing the store was the best decision for us to make.”

What will replace the Sobeys? That remains to be seen, but there’s few other locations downtown that are as attractive as the corner of 104 Street and Jasper Avenue. If I could wave my magic wand, I’d love to see the location turn into a year-round space for the City Market. One can dream, right?

Sobeys in Edmonton

As for Sobeys in Edmonton, Keri told me that Sobeys remains committed. “We see Edmonton as a good market, which is why we’re investing here,” she said. Sobeys is opening a brand new location tomorrow morning in Newcastle at 16943 127 Street. “It’s a new concept store, the third in Western Canada,” Keri explained. “It features a revamped store layout, vibrant colors, and a focus on food discovery throughout the store.” Echoing what was said of Urban Fresh when it opened, Keri suggested the new store will “have a real market feel to it.”

In the cuthroat grocery business, competition is fierce, and Sobeys is constantly evaluating their locations. “We have had great success here in Edmonton,” Keri said, “that’s why we’re bringing the new concept store here.”

Unfortunately, the 104 Street store just hasn’t worked out for Sobeys from a business point-of-view. “We want to thank the community downtown who came in and supported the store,” Keri said.

Daily Deals in Edmonton

I’m amazed at how many “daily deal” or “group coupon” sites there are in Edmonton now, let alone the rest of the world. I’m sure you’ve heard of Groupon, and maybe one or two others such as GoodNews, but did you know there are at least ten such sites in Edmonton? Here’s a list of the ones I have found:

There are also a bunch of sites preparing to launch in our city:

Daniel has created a Twitter list for some of the services here.

I don’t see how that many sites are going to succeed. My guess is that most won’t. Some are so similar in form and function that I wonder if they’re actually the same company. Others have obviously picked up on this trend, as there are dozens of “daily deal aggregators” out there so that you don’t have to sign up for each service individually. Here are some Edmonton-related ones I have found:

I’m sure there are many others that I have missed.

The most popular item on daily deal sites seems to be spa packages, so you may or may not find value in these services. I have used Groupon a couple of times, and I think they are here to stay. LivingSocial seems to be the second biggest of the sites, at least in the US. SwarmJam should be able to leverage its existing relationships with advertisers, so maybe they’ll find success. GoodNews has a bit of a twist in that it supports local charities. As for the rest – who knows.

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.

Food Glorious Food! In Calgary!

I stole the first part of the title from my sister – she uses it for pictures of food she makes and I like the way it sounds. I love food! So much so that Sharon and I went down to Calgary this past weekend for Dine Out week. It was also a good excuse for a short break away from everything.

Montreal Smoked Meat Omelette

Sharon is a great writer, and she summarized our trip very well on her blog – Part 1 and Part 2. Instead of repeating what she’s already written, I’ll just share a few highlights:

  • We ate at the following restaurants: blink and Galaxie Diner. Both were awesome! The photo above is the Montreal Smoked Meat Omelette from Galaxie. It’s a great little diner, with Coke memorabilia everywhere!
  • We stayed at the Westin Calgary, which is a really nice hotel. It even has a Starbucks in the lobby. We were upgraded to the business tower, which included free Internet!
  • We checked out the new glass floor at the Calgary Tower – it was mostly underwhelming (apparently that’s not a real word?).
  • We also checked out the Calgary Farmer’s Market, which was pretty cool! Lots of stuff to see, including Phil & Sebastian, where we tried coffee made using the Clover.
  • I got to use my iPod touch with open wireless to find directions using the Maps application!
  • It snowed like crazy on Saturday night in Calgary. I was hoping we’d escape the snow, but I guess we weren’t so lucky. I did get a few good pictures though.
  • We walked through Chinook Centre, but I only bought two shirts from Old Navy (not a big shopper, what can I say).
  • We stopped in Red Deer on the way back to see Tom & Bry. We had dinner at BP’s, and our waitress was pretty terrible. Either really new, or really dumb.
  • We didn’t go to Starbucks once, though we did drink lots of coffee. Crazy isn’t it?!
  • My photos of the trip are here.

It was fun! Dine Out Calgary will happen again next year, from March 9th to March 16th. Edmonton has one too.

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.


Boxing Day Shopping

I don’t think I’ve ever really gone shopping on Boxing Day as I am usually not in the city. Everyone told me that it is madness, that there are just too many people. I decided to go anyway, but I waited until late this afternoon. I went to Best Buy and picked up three games and a CD (first time I have bought one in ages…). The line was crazy long, and there wasn’t a lot of room to move throughout the rest of the store. It really was madness.

It seems to me that Boxing Day sales were much more heavily advertised this year than last. Will that translate into higher sales? Apparently last year broke records here in Canada:

Boxing Day 2005 was the single largest economic transaction day ever in the history of Canadian commerce (according to Visa). Individual big box stores can even gross over $1,000,000(CAN) on one single boxing day.

A lot of people don’t like Boxing Day because it is too commercial. I could care less. If I can get a good deal, might as well go! I feel bad for the people that have to clean up the stores though – Best Buy was a disaster this afternoon.

Xmas Shopping on Saturday the 23rd

I watched the evening news at 6 tonight, and their lead story was on the holiday shopping rush. They had cameras around the city throughout the day filming the madness. I too went shopping today, but not until about 7 PM this evening (no I didn’t just start, I was picking up some of the last items on my list). And actually, I think that might be the best time to go!

Traffic was light, the lines were very short, and everyone was surprisingly friendly during my time shopping this evening. I guess if you weren’t sure what you were looking for, waiting until the 23rd isn’t the best idea. If you know exactly what you’re after however, as I was, then perhaps it is the best time to go!

Apparently today (the last Saturday before Christmas, or December 23rd, this year it happens to be both) is the busiest shopping day of the year!

China Goes Shopping

Post ImageQuick – where is the world’s largest shopping mall? Nope, it is not Mall of America. Nor is it our very own West Edmonton Mall. The largest mall in the world is Beijing’s massive Golden Resources Mall, which measures a mind-boggling six million square feet. It opened last October, and is still growing:

How big is six million square feet? That mall, which is expected to cost $1.3 billion when completed, spans the length of six football fields and easily exceeds the floor space of the Pentagon, which at 3.7 million square feet is the world’s largest office building. It is a single, colossal five-story building – with rows and rows of shops stacked on top of more rows and rows of shops – so large that it is hard to navigate among the 1,000 stores and the thousands of shoppers.

As impressive as the mall is, there are larger malls on the way for China. The South China Mall is expected to be three times the size of Mall of America when completed.

Already, four shopping malls in China are larger than the Mall of America. Two are bigger than the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, which just surrendered its status as the world’s largest shopping mall to an enormous complex in Beijing. And by 2010, China is expected to be home to at least 7 of the world’s 10 largest shopping malls.

Not to be outdone, the Ghermezian’s are planning to expand Mall of America, and have two ten-million-square-foot malls in the works in China, called Mall of China and Triple Five Wenzhou Mall. I wonder if there are plans to expand WEM too?

While it might seem like a needless game of “I’m bigger than you!”, taking note of these malls in China is important. For one thing, it certainly casts doubt on the western-held view that the Chinese don’t have much disposable income. Perhaps not as a whole, but there are obviously enough wealthy Chinese to support such massive shopping malls. And the outlook must be positive enough to be planning the construction of even more malls in the country.

It’s also interesting to see that China is sort of following in America’s footsteps. Owning an automobile has become possible and extremely desirable in China, and now shopping in gigantic malls has hopped the Pacific too. Makes one wonder what else the Chinese do like the Americans.

Read: New York Times