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Standard caveats apply: I’m a Microsoft employee and fanboy.  I’m not ashamed.  I will say though when the announcements of the Microsoft retail brick-and-mortar stores opening, I was skeptical…no doubtful.  I kept (and still do a bit) thinking to myself how are they going to compete with the likes of Best Buy and others?!  Nonetheless, I waited patiently to see the plans.

I wouldn’t have to wait long as the first store opened up in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA.  Scottsdale is a neighboring town in the sprawl we call “Phoenix” (it’s about 40 mins from me in the QC).  When opening day came around, surely nobody would be there right?  Wrong.  Call them fanboys, eager folks to get tickets to the concert that night for their kids, whatever…but there were folks camped out.  And the lines were amazing.  The opening was an amazement to me of buzz and excitement from what I could tell.  4 days later I took the chance to go out there and take a look.

Microsoft Store EntranceI first saw a front entrance that didn’t display ‘old school’ Microsoft.  A subtle logo twist on the Windows logo (perhaps too subtle?  will people know) greets the header of the entry way.  Yes, it feels very Apple store-ish.  Naysayers flame away: copycat, blah blah.  So what…if you want to be successful, do you ignore what already has been successful?! No.

The store from the outside is very bright and clean.  Other than what are perhaps load-bearing pillars, floor-to-ceiling glass is in the entire front entry way.  When you walk in you’re greeted by some newly christened Softies (yes, they are full Microsoft employees…I see them in the GAL).  Each employee is wearing different colored shirts.  I’m assuming red means some type of supervisor or senior person.  I saw the manager, Cheryl, whom I’d been debriefed on earlier in the year.  The store was packed and I didn’t think it’d be appropriate to chat her up (aside from the fact my kids were yanking down all the Zune HDs from their docks).

Microsoft Store Crowd

I was approached by an associate who asked if I needed anything.  I identified myself as a fellow Microsoft employee and he asked me what team.  Silverlight, I told him.  Immediately he knew what that was and replied that he’s learning it right now coming from the Flash world as an animator.  Wow.  A retail clerk knowing Silverlight?!  We chatted about he Zune HD as I’d not seen them yet (one locked up on me while playing with it, which was weird). 

Microsoft Store laptop sales (dell adamo)I wandered around and was amazed at the laptop availability from all the major players: Dell (man that Adamo is sweet), Toshiba, HP, Sony, Acer, Lenovo, etc.  And all form factors: huge touch screens to netbooks.  I’m not sure how well they are priced, but the 13” Adamo was listed there at $1400.  Based on the sales figures I heard from one employee on the first day laptop sales, they were clipping along really well – people are actually buying stuff there!  I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like the machines purchased in the store were decrapified.  At least on the Dell’s I messed around with, the typical crapware was not installed – could have been a demo station thing, not sure and I didn’t ask.  The presentation of the machines and Windows 7 was well done though.

What amazed me was the conversations being had.  I heard more times from customers Oh, I didn’t know that.  The employees I saw engaging weren’t stumped.  These were very well prepared employees from what I could tell, accurate in information and confident in their replies to customers.  Solid.

Microsoft Store SurfaceSurface was a clear hit in the store.  There were four of them that I could tell, two “standard” ones that you see everywhere and 2 that were encased in a nicer presentation and at chest/bar level.  Perhaps this was so that adults could actually get a use on them.  The two others had a constant flux of kids in them playing the games (they were loaded up with all the demos in the world).  Seeing people interact with Surface was pretty cool – very little instruction needed other than “it’s a touch machine” – and people seemed to find it very intuitive.

There was also an “answer bar” in the back.  Yes, mock if you will the familiarity with the Apple genius bar.  Who cares, it’s the right thing to do.  There was a screen showing the appointments upcoming and it was pretty active.  I even saw someone bring in their XBOX for the red-rings-of-death fix.  Heck that alone could make the stores valuable :-).  Most people were there to understand Windows XP upgrades to Windows 7 it looked like to me.  Behind the answer bar there was also a room dedicated to instruction. 

Microsoft Store learning Microsoft Store Answer Bar

A huge screen with seating so regularly scheduled classes could be given to anyone who wishes.  For the Scottsdale store, you can find the upcoming lists on the web site for the Microsoft Store.  They have things ranging from exploring Windows 7, to getting in depth with Zune and understanding Office better.  I think this will be an essential asset for the store and Microsoft and the stores should be marketing the heck out of these learning sessions.  Everywhere.

Some cool facts?  Tons of WPF applications :-).  The wall that surrounds the entire store (which is very cool and really makes the store) is a WPF application.  One of the developers reached out to me a while back to let me know about it.  It’s pretty cool.  Also is some of the product choice helper application kiosk that are in some places (touch based of course).

Microsoft Store wall

Overall, a great experience and changed my mind.  The staff is well trained, the products are presented well and people are entering in the store.  I thought Scottsdale was an odd place for the store (it is in between a Tiffany & Co. and a Barneys) given the (yes I’m stereotyping) typical Scottsdale Fashion Square crowd.  We’ll see if that crowd levels continue through the holidays. 

The one thing that I think they are missing out on for geeks is a better name for their free WiFi.  I love how Apple brands their WiFi essentially.  Microsoft’s? RETAILGUEST.  Now anyone who has been to a Microsoft conference before will know that’s typical IT naming for us, but it misses a simple, subtle brand opportunity.  How about Microsoft Store?!?!

I think the store opening so far has been a success in sales and perception.  To me, the perception is key.  Having so many people having aha moments in the store should certainly help change their knowledge of Microsoft products and dispel some myths being portrayed.  The engaging, friendly and knowledgeable staff will only help things.  I wish that I’d seen a living room setup so that Media Center/XBOX had a better showing.  I think that is one product that isn’t out there in the consumer space enough.  And since I’ve moved completely to Media Center for my TV, having a setup showing things like the HD HomeRun and Windows Media Center with XBOX as an extender could go a long way I think.  It was energizing to see the store and how it was doing.  I wish it the best of luck!  The Mission Viejo store will be opening this week (29-Oct).

Oh yeah, and not a single BSOD in the the entire store :-).


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution By license.


10/25/2009 11:22 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
I can personally vouch for the Zune HD; I am loving mine so far.

That is awesome about the learning sessions as well. Wonder how long it will take for a store to show up here.

I agree they should have more setup to show off Media Center... as you know, it's pretty amazing the stuff you can do even just leeching free cable. :)
10/25/2009 11:23 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Having the surface in a retail setting is a LOONG time coming. That thing has to be huge when anyone plays with it. To me it screams cutting edge and hopefully it's front and center in the new stores.

You're right when you say that you want to copy what's successful, but it seems like Microsoft had *some* opportunity to be unique here. Copying everything from the decor to the Genius Bar seems sort of beneath you guys. But I haven't been to a store, so I'm just going on what you're saying.

Still can't believe we don't have a store here in Seattle. That just seems crazy :)

=Ryan
ryan@adobe.com
10/25/2009 11:32 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Ryan - I sorta agree. Although I'm not sure how much more unique you can be when your products are similar. Apple had a problem they needed solving with their stores (they were selling things, but couldn't educate). The stores helped them get one-on-one with the customer. Until last friday, Microsoft never sold direct to customers. For us, that's a game changer in our organizational ecosystem. Having MSFT employees engage 1:1 with customers and get information FROM US rather than from associates from big-box retailers that have to represent computers to washing machines (note: I buy most of everything at best buy, so I'm not knocking them, but I don't consider their associates to be experts) is huge. I'd love to see them be public about the information that people are coming to the answer bar with (I'm not even sure that's the real name of the place actually, but I saw a sign that said 'answers')...that'd be enlightening. Honestly I'm waiting for the local FSF chapter to come to the mall to protest :-)

In the end, I hope this experiment works with consumers. I think putting more visibility on things like Zune, Media Center, XBOX, and the things Windows can do with cameras, etc. (i.e., the Windows Live tools) will be big. I didn't see a single 3rd party camera being sold there other than a Flip Video being demonstrated -- that's an opportunity: sell a laptop with a current Canon snapshot camera at the same time...don't give the reason to go across the street to big box.

I don't know what demographic researched caused them to pick Scottsdale/Mission Viejo as their first choices...odd.
10/25/2009 11:35 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Nicely written Tim.

Just to share a thought with you, don't you think Microsoft should've given handouts for the FREE antivirus software - 'MSE', during this event? This would have been a great place and time to market something like this, don't you think?

Also, I saw some people buying desktops and laptops, if Microsoft had given a DVD with MSE on it to these customers, that would have added to the publicity and customer satisfaction!! At least I think so.

nmarun53
10/25/2009 11:47 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Judging from the recent Microsoft stock out-performance there are few people out there in the market who share your overall point of view that they probably have a few wins ahead of them.
10/25/2009 11:49 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Great article!

For the WiFi, how about naming it MSFTWLAN or A-MSFTWLAN? ;)

-Tom
10/26/2009 3:27 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Tim is there a list of where the microsoft stores will opening?
10/26/2009 5:46 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
OK... so we lucked out and did not get to have a Microsoft Launch party here in St. Madoes, Scotland.

Surely it is only fair and just that we get one of the first Microsoft Stores in the UK to compensate.

10/26/2009 8:35 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Awesome write up! I will use this for my news section talking point for the podcast recording today.

I really look forward for a store like this in my small home town of NYC.
10/26/2009 9:09 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Nice article. I would have loved some more pics, however. :0(

I think the comparison's to Apple stores are overblown, but understandable to some degree. Apple did a great job but I would suggest looking at GAP, Sony Style and FYE stores to see where Apple drew ideas from. You just have to do what works. Many stores in similar industries look similar. Look at grocery stores. lol

If Microsoft opens a bigger store, I would only hope they'd have real world setups such as kitchens, living rooms, dorm rooms, apt etc etc etc to show off Media Center, Xbox, Tabletop PCs like HP Touchsmart, Win 7 compatible receivers like the Onkyo on launch day demo. People would buy more xboxes if they saw it playing netflix on their big tv.
10/26/2009 9:21 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Arun - GREAT suggestion -- having Microsoft Security Essentials DVDs just laying around the stores for free would be a great idea!

Joe - thanks for the information on Microsoft Signature -- excellent!
10/26/2009 9:31 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Ken - I don't know of a list right now, but microsoftstore.com would be the place I expect it. I know only two have been planned in the short term right now: Scottsdale (open) and Mission Viejo, CA (opening this Thursday).

majg - what pics would you like? My phone captures (didn't have my camera here) are here: www.flickr.com/.../72157622663510070/. Check some of the media stories for other pictures.
10/26/2009 1:05 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Tim... great write up & pics. But.. when do we get one of these in Bellevue??!!
10/27/2009 1:47 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
naww.. your pictures were fine. I can't go to a store, so I wanted more photos of displays, product, expressions etc etc etc. Your article was great and I was glad to see it over at neowin.

jared marino: thanks for that info.
10/27/2009 10:37 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Scottsdale had an amazing opening! We’re hoping Mission Viejo’s will be just as large.

You’ll notice none of the computers come with pre-installed software. This is called Microsoft Signature. Microsoft Signature PCs come with full versions of Microsoft software, pre-configured and ready to run. Great tools such as Windows Security Essentials and Windows Live etc.

We are all so excited and cannot wait for our store to open this Thursday the 29th!

Jared Marino, Product Advisor, Microsoft Store Mission Viejo
10/28/2009 9:17 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
For some reason when I saw you at the SilverLight firestarter event in Redmond, I thought you were from Washington. I should have known that was not the case. Not pasty white enough :-). I hope these stores work out well. It would be good to have some experts to send people to.
10/29/2009 9:23 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
is that in iPhone screenshot on your flickr page? somebody that's 'not ashamed to be microsoft fanboy' should eat the dogfood all the way - or hand in the fanboy card! ;-)
10/29/2009 10:05 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Tofino - Ha! I use products that best meet my personal needs. 90% of the time in technology they are Microsoft's. Sometimes they are not. I have both an iPhone and a Windows Phone.
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10/31/2009 9:54 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Grr... the 10% also includes Flickr! Why not Windows Live Photos?!!! Hmm.. hand in the fanboy card!
10/31/2009 10:00 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Sam -- because I've had an investment in Flickr for...well...ever. I've kind of built my personal workflows around it :-) -- http://www.flickr4writer.com
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10/31/2009 5:59 PM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Sounds exciting, Tim, and thank you for blogging about it. I first learned of it on the Channel 9 show "Ping". I wasn't sure what to think, but it sounds as though it is turning out to be a good experience. I only wish there were one in the Albuquerque area. Oh well, I'll have to get to Scottsdale sometime and see it.
11/30/2009 3:50 AM | # re: Microsoft Store – engaging with consumers directly
Please open MS stores here in the UK, ASAP! :)

 
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The opinions/content expressed on this blog are provided "ASIS" with no warranties and are my own personal opinions/content (unless otherwise noted) and do not represent my employer's view in any way.