With Apple's retail stores being a driving force behind the company's massive growth over the past decade, can Microsoft emulate the same results with their own retail stores?
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Microsoft retail stores, a familiar but forgettable experience

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As I outlined in my previous piece, I recently visited an Apple retail store at the St. Louis Galleria mall. It was a good experience. This particular mall does house another retail store for another tech giant. It was a mixed experience.

In the telling of this, I have tried my best to remove my Apple bias (lets face it, I have one), and report strictly what I saw. That said, what I saw was kind of somber. First you’re struck with the façade of the store. Not bad, really. Clean logo that is all the rage these days. Plenty of what looked like white acrylic for the entrance. From there, things turn into a mishmash of retail styles.

It is as if a Microsoft store can not decide if it wants to be a Verizon store, a Best Buy or an Apple Store. It has tables with seating inviting someone to come in and tinker for a while, flashy presentation along the walls, all dressed up in a way similar to how Apple would handle it. But, something is just a little off.

It is a nice store, at least in regards to aesthetics and layout. I would say that is mostly because they copied Apple’s lead, and Apple had already done all of the hard work for them in developing this kind of retail experience. That is the whole issue, and it is impossible to avoid discussing it–these are meant to be Apple stores that happen to sell Microsoft products. From the use of materials, to the floor plan, to the brightly colored team member shirts, no idea has not been copied. It feels like these things were copied for the sake of copying them, not understanding the underlying decision that was made by Apple in the first place.

From what I saw this wholesale lift of ideas is not working as well as I would imagine Microsoft would like it to. As I was walking into the store I overheard a gentleman state “You’ve got to be kidding me, Microsoft has a store? And it looks just like…” His voice tapered away as I entered. You can guess as well as I how that sentenced ended. I was greeted by a lady in a green shirt (the whole staff was wearing green that day), who, no kidding, had been sitting at one of the display tables with her head in her hand seconds prior. She was bored and you could tell it. Just coming from the Apple store minutes prior, I can guarantee no one there was lethargic.

Everything in the store, including the staff, was nice. The products they were showing off, for the most part, were the flagship devices from Microsoft’s OEM partners. Everything just felt like a high-class attempt to pull off something that was being done correctly just a short walk away in the same mall. Then again, even that was blatant. The Microsoft store, which came after the Apple store in this particular mall (I would wager in all similar instances Apple arrived first), was within line of sight of the Apple store. Instead of luring people away, at least to my mind, it merely reemphasized the attempted “me too.” Others seemed to have the same disinterest. There was only one other customer in the store while I was there.

I’ll wrap up this parable by saying that I wish I could put my finger on what exactly was wrong with the Microsoft store. Every element seemed to be copying Apple’s winning formula, but without the same result. My guess? Products. There just wasn’t the same emphasis on products in the Microsoft store that you see at the Apple store. I mean that in an advertising sense–flashing displays and advertising material seemed to get in the way in the Microsoft store. But even then, I don’t know if it was so far off from what Apple is doing that they should not be seeing similar results. At least in regards to store foot traffic.

Looking at the Apple store, and how well I was treated, and the bustle of activity surrounding me while I was there, and then comparing it to the attempted coolness of an empty Microsoft store just feet away, you just can’t help but feel a little embarrassed for Steve Ballmer these days.

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