February 13, 2009, 4:01 PM — By now I'm sure you've read the news that Microsoft plans to open a chain of retail stores.
I've been trying to wrap my head around what such a store would look like, and why Microsoft feels the need to have them. The obvious reason is to compete with the Apple Stores, but why?
When Apple first got into the retail business, it was quite a challenge to find a brick & mortar store that sold their hardware. Back then, none of the "big box" stores carried the Apple brand, aside from iPods, so you can understand the logic that drove Apple to have a go at retail.
But of course, Microsoft doesn't manufacture computers. So are these stores going to be wall-to-wall Zunes, XBox 360s and Windows Mobile devices, with a few shelves dedicated to the various flavors of Windows 7? Or will they stock Windows machines from HP and Alienware?
One thing that pulls people into an Apple store is the "Genius Bar." These fixtures are staffed with employees who're trained to help with Macs, iPods and iPhones. Will the Microsoft Store have an analog, and if so, what is going to differentiate these experts from the guys at the Geek Squad across the mall at Best Buy? Will I be able to bring my home-built PC running Windows 7 into the Microsoft Store and get help? If so, then I'm on-board.
I also find it fascinating to speculate about the feel of the place. Apple Stores thrive on being pretentious; at least the ones I've visited do. For the black turtleneck-clad Apple
fanboys enthusiasts this makes the stores very appealing. I find them rather off-putting, and I'd rather call Apple HQ when I have a problem with my MacBook than deal with the attitude of the Geniuses at the local stores.
Microsoft's "I'm a PC" ads have all been down-to-earth to the point of being almost self-deprecating, and this might be the way to go with their retail store. And the fact that they hired a former Wal-Mart Manager (with 25 years of experience with the ultimate everyman brand) as vice-president of retail sales suggests that will be the angle they take. Imagine your non-techie neighbor walking into a computer store that is warm and welcoming after experiencing the distinctly cool climate of an Apple store. Where are they going to shop the next time they need computer gear?
But are they competing with Apple, or are they competing with Best Buy? Or for that matter, Wal-Mart? What's their niche going to be? Why am I going to make a special stop at the Microsoft store when I can buy the same stuff at the place I go to for my Complete Family Guy DVDs?
And what will their tech support department be called? We've got the Genius Bar and the Geek Squad. Sadly Nerd Herd has been snapped up by a television show. Got any ideas? Leave a comment and share!