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The transformation of its retail strategy came after AT&T asked itself a simple question: Does retail exist in the future?. "The answer is yes, but it's very different," Roth said. It's a question likely on minds across the industry. In the 12 months that ended in February, 61 percent of all smartphones sold were purchased through a carrier store, down from 69 percent two years ago, according to NPD. Baker said he expects the decline to continue this year as consumers shop more online and at large retail chains such as Walmart, which sell prepaid phone services.

Countering that trend is its family of lab stores, one of which is located in the lobby of AT&T Mobility's headquarters here, At first glance, it looks like any typical carrier store in a shopping mall, And on Mondays, such as the one on which I visited, it acts as a functioning store with inventory and cash -- the exception iphone screen protector extra buttons being that all the customers are AT&T corporate employees, The rest of the week, the retail team tests out different ideas, or tweaks the look of displays, often behind closed curtains..

Roth, who has run the retail group for more than five years, was eager to share details about the new concept store. The glass entrance, for instance, is framed with orange, a call back to the hipper, younger vibe of Cingular, which was rebranded to AT&T after a series of mergers between regional telcos. For the store, Roth and his team opted to remove the AT&T name, sticking with the blue globe logo unveiled in 2007. They believe that symbol is recognizable enough to stand alone now. The store is highlighted with reclaimed teak, borrowing a touch from Starbucks, alongside splashes of orange and white.

"We wanted something to feel surprising, but familiar," he said, Inside the 2,900-square foot space were "experience" areas, such as a round table ringed by music accessories, all surrounding a guitar centerpiece, A miniature drive-in theater helped demonstrate a mini projector that can be hooked up to your smartphone, Roth said that AT&T hired someone from Nike to help choose the props used to "better tell a story." (The company declined to name the individual), At the back of the store was a demonstration of AT&T's U-Verse home Internet and TV service, as well as its Digital Life connected home business, which allows you to remotely control things like your door locks or lights via a smartphone or tablet, Against one wall was the carrier's full phone lineup, A few smaller circular bar tables in the center of the store provided a place for iphone screen protector extra buttons employees to talk over the devices with their customers..

What you won't find: cash registers or sales counters. It's part of AT&T and Roth's plan to improve the retail experience by making it less about the transaction, and more about providing customers with relevant information before and after their purchases. AT&T isn't alone in this strategy. Verizon in November unveiled a large in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and has been opening a number of smaller "smart stores" in select locations throughout the US focusing more on experiences and a higher level of service.

The latest incarnation of AT&T's store, dubbed the "Store of the Future" concept, debuted at this lab in July and then went public in August, Since then, AT&T has opened or renovated 15 stores to carry that look and feel, Other design elements, like the removal of cash registers and counters in favor of mobile iPad checkout systems, have made their way to other stores (a iphone screen protector extra buttons retail tactic copied from Apple), The order and placement of the products you see at your local AT&T shop? Roth likely determined all of that at the lab store..

The plans is to roll out the Future Store concept to all of AT&T's stores, though Roth didn't give a time frame for when that would happen. Many of the changes were in play as far back as five years ago, when AT&T opened up the lab stores to figure out what worked in retail. Today, there are multiple facilities, including one in Milwaukee, and another Arlington Heights, Ill., equipped with heat sensors on the ceiling to determine traffic patterns. AT&T's flagship store on Chicago's famed Magnificent Mile started showing off some of the new retail elements in August 2012.

Shortly after taking over in the retail group in November 2008, Roth began hiring employees not just for their technical aptitude, but also their sales attitude, In the iphone screen protector extra buttons world of retail, that seems like a no-brainer, but AT&T was just getting started with its transformation, Where Ritz-Carlton has its "greenbook" guide for quality service, AT&T hands out a little blue book titled "Our Retail Promise" to store employees, The book includes reminders like giving a "warm, friendly, and genuine" greeting to customers as they walk in the door and answering all of the customers' questions before they leave the store..