Even on Black Friday, Microsoft’s retail stores can’t compete with Apple

Mon, Nov 29, 2010


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.



6 Comments For This Post

  1. morozco Says:

    It seems Microsoft is trying to solve problems that do not exist. Placing retail stores in malls near an Apple Store will allow consumers to finally do what? Not much more than if they went to Best Buy, or Frys. Other than getting MS specific help at the Guru Bar, there is not anything else that a shopper may be able to find at the Microsoft Retail Store. Microsoft only built these stores to try to have some image presence in the malls where Apple Stores are. Unfortunately, it seems it’s not a very good image.

    Now Microsoft WIndows Phone 7 is trying to solve another problem that phone users didn’t know they had. They want you to stop using your phone. I was with a bunch of friends this weekend and all were looking in their phones. I yelled out that “If you’d own a WP7 phone, then we’d all enjoying each other’s company. They all shrugged and went back to their phones, I did too.

  2. John Dingler Says:

    You pregnantly asked “Why, exactly, does Microsoft need retail stores?” but you did not answer, and I don’t want to guess what’s in your head. You are the writer of information, so it’s up to you to provide the answer.

    What is it?

  3. adda Says:

    @John Dingler

    It’s a rhetorical question, which is clearly explained by the article. If you’re still struggling, the answer is “they don’t, because Best Buy et al already are MS stores.” Which is probably why they’re not really doing that well.

  4. Fjord Prefect Says:

    …and thus Microsoft continues to spin wildly off into the wrong direction as they have been for years. At least they killed the Kin before it completely imploded. Hey Ballmer, you done yet or are you trying to make sure that your buddy Bill’s company is definitively driven into the ground before you retire?

  5. Peter Says:

    I think Microsoft needs retail stores for many of the same reasons Apple needed them–to get their message through to consumers.

    How quickly some forget those days. When you mentioned Apple, most people said, “They’re still in business? Didn’t they get bought by Microsoft?” As you mentioned, Apple’s retail partners were “big box” stores that were interested in moving merchandise. With Spiffs and other incentives from Apple’s competitors, it was only the dedicated salesperson who wouldn’t try to move a prospective Apple customer over to Windows. Also, consumers were buying Windows machines because that’s what they used at work. Apple had to get out among consumers and sell them Macintoshes–they couldn’t depend on a “retail partner” to do it for them.

    So the main goal the Apple Store was to get Apple computers out in front of people. Offer free Internet access so people would see that Macs can use the Internet. Show off Apple’s good-looking designs. Let people actually use a Mac and see that’s not that weird or foreign.

    Microsoft has a similar problem to the one Apple had. People running antique versions of Windows are not pleased. They’re considering looking elsewhere. Their only experience with Microsoft’s operating system isn’t that good. Zunes sit on store shelves where you have to buy it to try it out. Basically, there is no place to go to see the latest version of Windows, the latest Zune, Xbox, Office, Windows Phone, etc. You have to buy on faith and hope it’s better. Years ago, people might have been willing to do that. But, today, Microsoft’s brand is shot. Nobody’s going to buy a Microsoft product sight unseen.

    Microsoft’s stores are designed to be places where people can “check out the latest stuff.” They may not buy their products from the store–in fact, they probably won’t. They can look at Windows 7 running on good hardware and ask questions about what they should buy. They can check out the Zune and see it sync it’s music from the laptop across the room. They can check out Kinect on an Xbox 360.

    One thing that Microsoft learned in the Vista debacle was that they cannot trust their manufacturing partners. The whole Vista-Capable/Vista-Ready mess was meant to appease these companies. Windows Vista got lots of bad press, but when Microsoft showed it to people, they liked it. This showed Microsoft that they need to be out in the lead with their message, rather than expecting their partners to carry their banner.

    And, as Apple showed, one of the best ways to do this is to get out with the Hoi Polloi and show them what you’ve got. If those people go in to the Microsoft store and see Windows 7 in action, they may be less inclined to buy that Mac. If they go into a Microsoft store and see a Windows Phone, they may reconsider that desire for an iPhone. If they see the cool games on an Xbox with a Kinect controller, they may reconsider that PS3 or Wii purchase.

    And if they don’t end up buying it from Microsoft at their store, that’s okay, too. Because wherever they buy it, Microsoft still makes money.

  6. Savage Says:

    What can Msoft possibly “got” Peter?

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