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Cellular South marries virtual experience with bricks and mortar

Ridgeland’s Renaissance at Colony Park added brick and mortar to the virtual world last Wednesday when Cellular South opened its first dotcom store.

The store seeks to physically recreate the company’s Web site, says Jim Richmond, director of corporate communications for Cellular South.

At the location, customers can perform all the functions of the Web site — shopping for phones and phone accessories, product demos, product tutorials, account management and purchasing options that range from doorstep delivery to carry-out from the store.

“Based on our research, we believe this is the world’s first retail store designed as a mirror image of a Web site,” said Hu Meena, president of Cellular South.

On the frontier

Media were given the opportunity to “walk through the Web” last week, one day before the store’s opening. Flat-screen computer monitors sit at every customer station, with each stop designed to flow to the next. Contemporary lighting and fixtures mesh with state-of-the art electronics to give the place a modern feel.

“We believe this is the next frontier,” Richmond said. He points to the lifestyles section– where customers answer a series of questions about their wireless use and receive a recommended plan and device based on their answers — as the most important function of the store. In all, every service and function available on at www.cellularsouth.com will be available in three-dimensional form at the dotcom store.

Cellular South was a stalwart of the wireless boom of the 1990s, when the Ridgeland-based company opened retail stores whose mission went from strictly sales to sales and service. The integration of the sales and service sectors is the concept that led to the dotcom store.

Twenty-three employees will staff the store. Richmond said most of them are new and have spent the last month in training.

Customer feedback

To help provide the best possible experience, Cellular South enlisted 7,000 of its customers to participate in an advisory panel that will make recommendations and grade the store and its products and services.

Brad McNair, of Star, sits on the panel and has been a Cellular South customer for several years.

“To know the company wants to know what you think is nice,” McNair said. As for the dotcom store, “It’s pretty neat,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s user-friendly. It’s really going to benefit my generation, the younger generation, because we do everything online.”

“It’s cutting-edge,” says Kathy Ford, a panelist from Madison.

Lineup additions

Once product testing is complete, Cellular South will add to the list of services offered at the store. Mobile banking, which allows customers to manage their bank accounts from their wireless devices; and mobile ticketing, which allows customers to store event tickets on their wireless devices and scan them upon admission, are two services currently in the works. Consumer trials in Jackson and Memphis for mobile commerce have ended, Richmond said, with customers reacting favorably to the idea of making purchases and moving money around with their wireless devices. All that remains is finding a device that can handle the demands of the service.

Obopay, a service designed to put money on a debit card, and mobile coupons, which allows customers to store coupons on their wireless devices, both debuted last fall.

It is not the company’s goal for the dotcom stores to completely replace its traditional retail outlets, Richmond said. The services offered at each could very well be integrated, but one will not be viewed as more important than the other.

“We feel like this will be our future,” Richmond said of the dotcom store. “And others in the wireless industry and other businesses in other industries will follow. Our goal is to create an ultimate online shopping experience, and we feel like we’ve done that.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

About Clay Chandler

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