A Microsoft Store? Um Isn’t That Kind of Like a Procter & Gamble Store?

By  |  Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Procter and Gamble ProductsMy colleague David Worthington reported on Thursday of Microsoft’s plans to open retail stores. I wanted to mull over the prospect before I said anything. It’s tempting to make fun of the concept–my PC World buddies and some PCW readers did a good job of that here–but I didn’t want to be impulsively snarky, or to come to any definitive conclusions about an idea that nobody (including Microsoft) knows all the details of just yet.

But as I’ve thought it over, I keep coming back to one thought. The Apple Stores work because Apple makes a limited, consistent, well-integrated set of products that make sense sitting on one set of store shelves. Microsoft doesn’t–its wares are vastly larger in number, far broader in mission, and less tied to each other. The company is a technology conglomerate in a way that Apple isn’t, and the notion of an all-Microsoft retail establishment makes me think of a Procter & Gamble store that sells Charmin, Pampers, Tide, Crest, Gillette Fushion razors, and Pringles chips under one roof.

Yes, yes, I know–any Microsoft store is going to hawk only a subset of Redmondian products. It’ll offer Windows 7 but not Visual Studio programming tools; Xbox 360 but not Dynamics CRM; mice and keyboards but not SQL Server. Even so, the products in question aren’t much of a cohesive package. And they certainly don’t represent an entire world in the way that Apple’s hardware, software, and services do.

In fact, isn’t that the primary virtue of Microsoft’s products, as hinted at by Windows’ “Life Without Walls” tagline? They’re available in a variety of forms on the products of countless companies, and work with almost every add-on and accessory on the planet. Microsoft is all about the commoditization of technology–and in this particular case, I mean that as a compliment rather than a criticism.

That’s a tough benefit to sum up in the form of a retail location. But on some level, every Best Buy in the country is a “Microsoft store,” since that chain is all about multiple choices and competing brands and low prices. The Microsoft products scattered inside a Best Buy make sense because they’re dwarfed by the selection of non-Microsoft products that work with Microsoft products. Just as P&G’s Bounty paper towels make more sense in the cleaning goods aisle of a supermarket than they would sitting next to Eukanuba dog food and Clearblue Easy pregnancy tests.

(Side note: While Best Buy sells Macs and related Apple products, they strike me as being out of context there, at least in the way that they’re presented–in a small, self-contained, somewhat lonely section off on the side. It’s like a tiny, alternate universe of stuff that won’t run any of the applications or games in Best Buy’s software section, and which aren’t compatible with all the hardware elsewhere in the store.)

Unless Microsoft plans to open up big boxes that anchor strip malls, its own stores surely won’t convey the true advantages of buying into the Microsoftian ecosystem. Judging from what Microsoft exec Robbie Bach has said about the retail initiative, I suspect that the goal is to promote the Microsoft world as a sort of pseudo-Apple matched set, in which you’re happier because you own a Windows laptop, a Zune, an XBox, and a Windows Mobile phone, and subscribe to Windows Live services.

But I could be wrong–and I’d be far more impressed if the Microsoft Store showed consumers how they can use a Windows laptop with an iPod, a PlayStation 3, a BlackBerry, and Google stuff…

 
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11 Comments For This Post

  1. Maddio Says:

    Sounds just about right, but you probably forgot when MSFT first opened the microsoftSF about 10 years ago, when the Metreon first opened up — I don't think it was open long. And, the sad related news is that the Sony Playstation store closed its doors this month.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    I only dimly remember the Microsoft store at the Metreon–which probably isn’t a good sign. But given that there seem to be no examples of retailers -succeeding- at the Metreon (the SonyStyle store there s also closing) I wouldn’t take the Microsoft store’s failure as a black mark against the whole idea of a Microsoft shop…

    –Harry

  3. David Spark Says:

    That Microsoft store in the Metreon I don’t think actually sold anything. And I remember it behaved more like a museum than a store. The foot traffic on the second floor was essentially nil and I once walked through there seeing no one, not even staff. It was kind of eerie.

    But I’ll also say that I think Microsoft can be hugely successful with a store if all they focus on is the customer experience, by heavily staffing the stores. And success could turn out to just be a positive Microsoft impression and not actual sales. They’re not going to make huge money on these stores, but they will benefit hugely on putting a human face on Microsoft. Something the company has never had beyond the face of Bill Gates, and that’s fading away.

    Now when you have a question or concern with Microsoft, they’ll be a face you can connect it to.
    More here: http://www.sparkminute.com/?p=516

  4. Marc Says:

    Sounds like a good idea to me. A lot of retail outlets give Microsoft a bad name. The stores are usually are messy, understaffed, items are labelled wrong, or shown with the margin high finance option’s monthly price made more prominent, there is often too much choice due to manufactures offering incentives to stores to place certain items on the shelf to make their other products look more appealing.

    Also most stores don’t “sell” windows. People just assume it’s there, and don’t know half about what it can do. Microsoft obviously don’t want to be the wall underneath fancy Google patterned wallpaper.
    In fact a lot of stores don’t want to advertise the fact that you get photo editing, movie making and basic word processing capabilities, as the the staff are targeted to sell these bits of software as add-ons.

    Contrast that with an Apple store. Lots of staff, who, while not in the slightest bit technical, know about the features and how to sell a product, without resorting to “hard sell” tactics. All the *key* products (can you buy an XServe? I didn’t see in it the two stores I’ve visited, one in LA, and the other was the main NYC one) but you can buy iWorks etc, and all the consumer hardware.

    Microsoft obviously don’t want to get a bad name, and want people to know they are getting Windows. They also probably want to flog a few copies of Office with laptops while they’re at it (just like Apple try and sell you iLife). So fair play to them for wanting some sort of end-to-end control over how people buy their stuff.

    Of course Microsoft don’t want to sell enterprise software this way, that’s why you won’t see SQL Server or Dynamics. The requirements for the average enterprise are too complex and would require someone with specialised training. Much better for them to simply say to people “please call our volume licensing team”.
    Sounds reasonable.
    Visual Studio, unlike SQL Server and Dynamics might be something hobbyists would want to use. You could argue they might want SQL Server too, but the Express version is enough for most people, and Visual Studio Pro comes with a Developer Edition of SQL Server (exactly the same as the enterprise version, but not licensed for a production environment).

    So this makes sense to me on many levels. Lets hope some UK stores crop up soon (we still don’t even get Zunes yet).

  5. ryanchadwick Says:

    I think they could do well to have several stores. One targeted at home use and another targeted to business use. You might say why not just combine the two but in the case of MS I think their offerings for these segments are different enough that to try and serve both in the one shop would create a not focused enough brand.

    Though I also wonder what MS can do differently from all the other stores that currently sell MS products? In the case of Apple it was easy as they have a very distinct image so it was easy to differentiate.

  6. Dibs Says:

    There’s just so many things changing right now in teh world. I personally don’t think this is a good idea, but then again, it seems like tech companies are trying more and more to differentiate products that are less and less different.

    Read about Google’s attempt to do just that here: http://youcanneverbehappy.wordpress.com/2009/02/12/google-knows-where-you-live/

  7. gp Says:

    here in chicago we have a store called Micro Center that is like a Best Buy on steriods,they sell everything Microsoft makes plus everything else including at least 5 different brands of PC including the house make and everything one could ever need to make your own. Every magazine,book, game,the place is a wonder and they have a very well stocked Apple dept that has kept me completely out of the flagship chicago Apple store.I can’t imagine how MicroSoft could ever compete with this place.

  8. Harry McCracken Says:

    gp: When I lived in Boston, Micro Center was my computer store of choice. Not perfect, but a lot less imperfect than much of the competition. There’s one out here in the Bay Area in Sunnyvale, but it’s a tad far for me–I usually go to Fry’s.

    –Harry

  9. freespaces Says:

    Most of thier stuff is downloaded anyway from the internet but if they want to pay more for a storefront I’m sure they can afford to do so!

  10. WaitingOnWindows Says:

    Would love to have a Microsoft store in the area so I could go yell at a real person when the piece o' crap doesn't work.

  11. orange county water damage Says:

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