Looking to capitalize, err, emulate, the success of Apple’s retail stores, Microsoft up and decided to create its own retail stores and place them in high-traffic mall areas, sometimes right across the way from an Apple store. Microsoft’s retail initiative borrows heavily from Apple, from the architectural design to the employees wearing brightly colored shirts, and all the way down to a Guru Bar (read: Genius Bar).
But Microsoft’s retail initiative hasn’t exactly been blowing anything out of the water. Lackluster foot traffic compounded by uninspiring products that one can find at an assortment of electronics shops effectually diminishes any sort of buzz these stores might otherwise have.
Writing for the LA Times, Nathan Olivarez-Giles recently visited a Microsoft retail store in Mission Viejo to gauge how well Microsoft’s retail efforts were going. And with the holiday shopping season in full swing, what better time to stop on by than on black friday.
Over a half-hour period, 19 people walked out of the mall’s Apple Store carrying purchases in one of the company’s signature white bags. By comparison, just three walked out of the nearby Microsoft Store with merchandise.
The survey may not have been scientific, but it reflects what analysts say is the challenge Microsoft Corp. faces in taking on Apple Inc. in America’s shopping centers.
One shopper Olivarez spoke to explained that Microsoft stores lack the exclusivity inherent in Apple stores. “Everything sold here can be bought somewhere else, likely for a lower price,” the gentleman explained. “There is no exclusive product here to pull me in. But at the Apple Store, there’s all kinds of stuff I can’t get anywhere else.”
More problematic, though, is that the Microsoft Store, even with all of its computing options, still lacks the variety users can find at stores like Best Buy and Target. If you can waltz into a Best Buy and play with 40 different computers and get all sorts of configurations, a relatively limited selection of PCs at a Microsoft store makes for an extremely uncompelling shopping experience.
Apple’s line of retail stores were borne out of necessity. Most stores didn’t carry Apple products, and those that did often showcased them in neglected and infrequently foot trafficked areas. Apple Stores finally gave Apple’s lineup of products to shine. Microsoft’s retail initiative, on the other hand, seems to be remedying a problem that doesn’t exist. Why, exactly, does Microsoft need retail stores?
The root of the problem may very well be that Microsoft simply lacks sexy products with which to lure in customers. Sure, it has the Xbox, but aside from that, who’s getting all excited for Windows 7? Where’s the awe-inspiring industrial design to catch the attention of passerbys? Apple has the iPhone, the iPad, the iMac, the MacBook Air – these are products that people actually get excited about and look forward to purchasing.
In the end, the biggest problem with Microsoft’s retail stores may very well be Microsoft.