The new Microsoft Store had its grand opening in Danbury Fair Mall recently and I wanted to check it out. I happened to be in the Danbury Fair Mall to (ironically) visit the Apple Store to have my busted iPhone replaced. [Side note - none of the Apple Store employees had ever seen my shaking screen problem and they were all oohing and ahhing over the oddity.]
Anyway, after getting my iPhone replaced I headed over to the Microsoft store, which had just opened a couple weeks earlier. I fully expected the Microsoft Store to be a cheap knockoff or clone of the Apple Store and to smirk at the audacity of Microsoft copying Apple's retail idea. As soon as I walked through the door my immediate impression of the Microsoft Store was "Wow, this is no Apple Store."
My next thought was, "It's better." The Apple Store has this clean simplistic design with lots of white and clear plastic, but it lacks the fun factor and has this almost cold, hospital, sterile-like atmosphere. I found the Microsoft Store to be warm, fun, and futuristic. The store has huge flat screen displays lining the walls that are perfectly recessed into the wall so they don't stick out even one inch. In front of some of these displays are Xboxes and Kinects to allow visitors to play video games. While I saw some kids jumping and laughing playing a Kinect game I couldn't help but wonder if they were loud in the Apple Store. I imagined the Apple Store employees and indeed the Apple customers themselves would turn to the laughing kids and shush them like a librarian would do in a library and thinking to themselves, "Hush children. This is hollowed Apple ground. Would you be rowdy in a church?" While I may exaggerate the serious "feel" of the Apple Store compared to the Microsoft Store, there definitely is a more of a business-type atmosphere in the Apple Store while the Microsoft Store was more fun.
I checked out the large displays around the store and saw computers, Xboxes, Windows Phone, tablets, etc. Alas, no early Microsoft Surface tablet to play with. In the middle of the store is the Answer Desk with a glass wall behind it to separate the front and rear of the store.
Interestingly, the store actually extends out into the mall where there was some chairs, table, and a large screen with a Xbox and Kinect hooked up, allowing customers to play games just outside the store away from any potential sales pressure inside the store. Though when I was in the store I wasn't approached by any of the Microsoft employees. Perhaps the reason was I whipped out my newly minted Apple iPhone and started taking photos and video of the store? You can check out a 360 degree view of the store in this video here:
One of the display tables read "Our favorite laptops". I didn't bother to look to see what models were being advertised as Microsoft's favorite laptops, but I imagined if they espoused HP as their favorite, how would ACER or Dell feel? And you thought the hardware manufacturers were upset about Microsoft Surface? Just imagine if Microsoft starts playing favorites in their retail stores or starts "selling" their "favorites" list to the highest bidder. I thought I saw "Our favorite tablets" display too, which will certainly put Microsoft in a bit of a quandry once Microsoft Surface is released. Hardware manufacturers who are building Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets won't appreciate not making the Microsoft Store's "Favorite tablets" display table. To be fair to Microsoft, it's their right to espouse their products as the "best" - it's their store.
The Apple Store I visited was jam packed while the traffic in the Microsoft Store was modest, so clearly Apple is winning the retail war. There are only 24 Microsoft Stores nationwide, so Microsoft has their work cut out for them to catch up to Apple Stores. However, I was very impressed with design and layout of the Microsoft Store at the Danbury Fair Mall and expect with the Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets launch (as well as Windows Phone 8) to bring Microsoft up to par with Apple in retail customers. One last note, at the time I visited the Apple Store there were NO kids in there while at the Microsoft Store there were at least 10 kids - no doubt due to the draw of the Xboxes and Kinect video games. I bring this up because parents will go where their kids want to go and parents like to buy things for their kids that their kids want. Kids could be Microsoft's secret weapon to gaining traction in the retail space and finally knocking Apple from their technology retail store throne.
Here's the full list of current Microsoft Store locations: Scottsdale, AZ Scottsdale Fashion Square
Costa Mesa, CA South Coast Plaza
Los Angeles, CA Westfield Century City
Mission Viejo, CA The Shops at Mission Viejo
Palo Alto, CA Stanford Shopping Center
San Diego, CA Fashion Valley Mall
Santa Clara, CA Westfield Valley Fair
Lone Tree, CO Park Meadows Mall
Danbury, CT Danbury Fair Mall
Orlando, FL Coming soon The Florida Mall
Atlanta, GA Lenox Square Mall
Oak Brook, IL Oakbrook Center
Overland Park, KS Oak Park Mall
Boston, MA Coming soon The Shops at Prudential Center
Bloomington, MN Mall of America
Salem, NH Coming soon The Mall at Rockingham Park Bridgewater, NJ Bridgewater Commons
Freehold, NJ Freehold Raceway Mall
Huntington Station, NY Coming soon Walt Whitman Shops White Plains, NY
Coming soon The Westchester San Juan, PR
Coming soon Plaza Las Americas Austin, TX The Domain
Houston, TX Houston Galleria
Arlington, VA Coming soon The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City Tysons Corner, VA Tysons Corner Center
Bellevue, WA Bellevue Square Mall
Seattle, WA University Village
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