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Best Buy mimicking Apple stores in retail makeover

In an effort to turn around its declining sales, Best Buy is testing new, smaller stores that borrow numerous elements from Apple's highly successful retail chain.

Best Buy has one prototype store in Richfield, Minn., which has a "Solution Central" table staffed by its Geek Squad employees that looks akin to Apple's Genius Bars according to The Wall Street Journal. The test store also offers customers the ability to pay for products at several locations rather than in checkout lines, much like Apple does.

Best Buy is attempting to shake things up after its stock has fallen 33 percent over the last two years, and sales at its stores have declined nearly 2 percent in each of the last two years.

The retailer's interim chief executive, Mike Mikan, has called the experimental, Apple-like store "Best Buy 2.0." The new focus is on ensuring customers can speak with employees who assist them, rather than displaying as many gadgets as possible.

The goal is that improved service can give the retailer an advantage over online electronics sellers like Amazon, which typically feature lower prices. Best Buy and other retailers are attempting to curb a trend known as "showrooming," where customers will visit a brick-and-mortar location to check out a product in person, but ultimately make their final purchase on the Internet.

Best Buy's new "Solution Central" has been compared to Apple's Genius Bars. Photo via The Wall Street Journal.

The company announced in March that it plans to close 50 stores and cut $800 million in costs as low margins on mobile computing devices have negatively affected its bottom line. After the closings, Best Buy will still have about 1,050 stores left in the U.S., and 60 of those are scheduled to be converted to the new "2.0" look with 20 percent less floor space.

The retailer is also planning to have 40 percent of its current workers undergo extensive training in September. New hires at Best Buy will also receive 80 hours of training in an effort to improve service.

Though Apple operates its own retail stores, Best Buy is an important partner for the iPhone maker. One recent survey found that Best Buy sells nearly as many iPhones in America as Apple does through its own direct sales.

Many Best Buy stores also feature dedicated Apple sections that feature products like the iPad, Macs and the Apple TV. That "store within a store" concept is found at over 600 Best Buy locations in America.