80+ Years of Abt Electronics: How Technical Expertise and Personable Support Help the Family-Owned Retailer Match Customers with PCs

80+ Years of Abt Electronics Computer Buying Guides

TL; DR: Originally launched as a radio store on an $800 investment in 1936, Abt Electronics now operates a 450,000-square-foot facility outside of Chicago. More than 1,400 employees are on hand to provide shoppers with helpful insights on sometimes confusing technologies. As the holiday gift-giving season approaches, we’re honoring Abt with our Developers’ Choice™ recognition for informative, vendor-neutral computer buying guides that streamline the entire shopping experience.

Chicago may be known as a major business hub with towering skyscrapers and globally significant companies, but the nearby presence of a popular family-owned electronics retailer reminds shoppers that big business doesn’t have to mean bureaucratic box stores.

Alongside the city’s reputation for deep-dish pizza and bitterly cold wind, Abt Electronics has delivered classic Midwestern hospitality for more than 80 years.

Although the company now sells a wide range of home appliances, furniture, and accessories, Abt Electronics started in 1936 by selling radios. That longstanding familiarity and experience with consumer electronics resonate throughout the retailer’s computers and tablets division, where informative buying guides educate consumers about which devices, accessories, and features will best suit their needs.

In addition, all sales come with free technical support and Abt’s award-winning customer service. That dedication to helping shoppers make informed purchases, according to Director of eCommerce Operations Ken Au, has been woven into the company’s culture since the beginning.

“While big-box competitors have entered and left the market, Abt credits its success to staying true to the family values and dedication to customer service on which it was founded,” he said. “Abt remains a family-run business today, as third- and fourth-generation family members work at the store.”

Computer Buying Guides Teach Shoppers About Complex Components

From the outset, Abt Electronics employees wanted to demystify the technical jargon and specifications of buying a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or other components.

“When reading about technology, you either understand it or you don’t,” Ken said. “We took the approach to break down the hardware features of the computer and define them in simple terms.”

For example, a hard drive is described less in terms of gigabytes and read-write speed and more in relation to how many songs, family photos, or home movies it can store. RAM simply measures how fast a computer processes information; the more it has, the faster it thinks.

Screenshots of Abt buying guides

Abt’s buying guides, which earned our Developers’ Choice™ recognition, help customers find exactly the right product.

“The key is to keep the computer buying guide non-cryptic and understandable,” Ken said. “As computers began to get more advanced, the buying guides require modifications to include the seemingly always-advancing technology. However, the writing style remains the same, wherein a complex feature is written to be understandable.”

Abt Electronics doesn’t make product recommendations in its buying guides, Ken said. The company emphasizes presenting neutral, unbiased information in a way that’s most useful, relevant, and understandable to consumers.

“Typically, vendor content is written in a very technical fashion,” he said. “At Abt, we take the vendor information and balance it with what customers are asking for the most. Understanding the shoppers’ needs and wants allows us to write with purpose.”

Abt Electronics: More Than 8 Decades of Knowledge and Service

The Abt family’s 80 years of selling electronics almost didn’t happen. In 1936, patriarch David wanted to go into the grocery business. His wife, Jewel, however, had been pushed out of her family’s produce company and was fronting the $800 to start a new venture. She asked David to sell transistor radios, something he had done previously.

Jewel and David continued working at the store while their son Bob took the reins, eventually relocating operations to Glenview in 1975. His four sons — Jon, Mike, Billy, and Ricky — now run the company as Co-Presidents, and fourth-generation Abts can also be seen working throughout the facility.

From the shop’s first days, Abt Electronics has since moved to a 37-acre campus in nearby Glenview, Illinois, where it employs roughly 1,400 customer service specialists, sales representatives, and knowledgeable experts.

“Abt has grown to become one of the largest independent single-store appliance and electronics retailers in the country,” Ken said.

The company’s 450,000-square-foot facility now houses tens of thousands of products in categories ranging from kitchen appliances to watches and power tools. In addition to a massive showroom, Abt headquarters foster a mall-like environment by featuring a Bellagio-inspired fountain, a 750,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, and stand-alone boutique shops from the likes of Apple and Dylan’s Candy Bar.

Strong Family Values Foster a Caring and Supportive Workplace

Abt.com debuted online in 1997 as one of only a few online retailers for brands such as Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba. The company, which only collects sales tax from shoppers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan, provides free shipping on thousands of products, complimentary technical support, and in-house classes on how to use various handheld electronics.

The long-time attention to customer service and employee happiness culminated in 2016 when Forbes tapped Abt Electronics as one of the country’s 25 best small companies. Also that year, Abt topped the Chicago Tribune’s list of top workplaces.

The company brings in lunch for employees four days per week and provides bicycles for those who wish to go elsewhere. Employees enjoy flexible hours and a wellness program that includes an on-site gym and freely available fruit and vegetable snacks. Delivery drivers, which make roughly 9,000 trips per week, have access to drinks, snacks, and massage chairs.

The company’s compassion extends to its commitment to a cleaner and safer environment for future generations. Abt Electronics opened a 10,000-square-foot recycling center in 2008 that takes in more than 240,000 pounds of Styrofoam, 10 million pounds of appliances, and 3 million pounds of electronics.

Instead of relying on the coal-burning local utility company, Abt runs a cleaner and more efficient natural gas generator. The company collects rainwater on its roof to irrigate the property, and Abt completed a rooftop array of 1,500 solar panels in 2016.

Boosting the Digital Shopping Experience With Interactive Education

Ken’s team has the daunting task of duplicating Abt’s widely known reputation for face-to-face support in the impersonal world of the internet.

“Abt is known for knowledgeable product specialists, friendly customer service, and a well-rounded shopping experience from beginning to end,” he said. “Taking that and translating it into a digital experience would be a great accomplishment.”

Ken and his colleagues have begun the challenge by creating interactive learning experiences that allow prospective buyers to watch a video and then select exactly which information will be most helpful.

“This way we are able to keep the consumer interested and wanting to come back for further product knowledge,” he said. “Ultimately, the consumer takes the information to make their own informed decision.”

Laura Stamey

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