I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes. CNBC is reporting that Microsoft is planning on opening up its own line of Microsoft branded stores in an attempt to emulate the success of Apple’s retail stores.
Microsoft’s new endeavor seems to raise more questions than it answers, and it’s perplexing why Microsoft is attempting to follow Apple into the cut-throat business of retail when a number of other high profile stores from other tech companies have ended in failure.
One of the bigger problems with a Microsoft store is the fact that there’s simply no need for them. You can walk into any electronics store and immediately see what Microsoft products are out on the market. Walk into your local Best Buy and you’re bombarded with a never-ending display of machines running Windows.
In that regard, comparisons to Apple retail stores are misguided to the extent that Apple’s foray into the retail world was rooted in necessity. In the early 2000’s, there weren’t that many places for Mac users to peruse and purchase Apple hardware and software. Not only that, but the few places that did happen to sell Apple products were often staffed by employees with no familiarity with Apple products, and they would often direct users to machines they were familiar with – Windows machines.
The necessity for a Microsoft store aside, one also has to wonder what products in particular Microsoft is planning to showcase. Dell machines? HP machines? Sony Vaio’s? Netbooks? Smartphones? They might all be running Microsoft software, but the user experience for each machine can vary in a number of different ways, and if anything, such a setup might end up confusing customers who can’t figure out why the trackpad on one machine works a lot differently than the trackpad on another, or why some machines have built in webcams and others don’t. Microsoft, of course, could remedy this by only housing consistent high quality hardware, but you’re still left with the problem of not showing consumers anything they haven’t already seen before.
Microsoft is also planning on showcasing Windows Mobile devices at its stores, but again, the potential for customer confusion among the wide variety of Windows Mobile enabled smartphones might end up confusing customers as opposed to attracting them. Also, until Windows Mobile 7 becomes available, the current line up of Windows Mobile devices will have a hard time competing against the iPhone, the G1, any BlackBerry device, and the upcoming Palm Pre. In this respect, Microsoft’s problem in regards to mobile software isn’t visibility, but rather an issue of quality.
Ultimately, Microsoft’s problem is the fact that it’s been the dominant company in Software for over 15 years now. It’s the classic case of being the victim of your own success. When you have 98% (now 90) of the market, the only place to go is down. Windows 7 might be an operating system blessed by the UI gods themselves, but the fact remains that Microsoft doesn’t need to sell upgrade copies of its new OS in order to be successful. Any customer buying a new PC will automatically be purchasing Windows 7, so in that regard, Microsoft’s success is already built in. At best, a Microsoft Store might be able to convince users thinking of switching over to Apple from doing so. But entering the vicious retail business to keep that small segment of users seems like more trouble than its worth. The situation is exacerbated even more when one takes the floundering economy into account.
With all that said, I don’t see how a Microsoft branded store would be anything but bad news for the good folks up in Redmond.