Technologizer posts about Retailing

The first time I visited China, it had no official Apple Stores–but I did visit a mom-and-pop Apple retailer that reminded me of the independent ones here in the U.S. Times have changed: now there are real Apple Stores, and places that want you to think that they’re real Apple Stores.

Posted by Harry at 11:04 am

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Ballmer’s Right: Five Reasons Why Microsoft Should Open More Stores

By  |  Posted at 1:49 pm on Thursday, April 7, 2011

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As Harry noted earlier, the Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff has the news of an internal debate with Microsoft on the future of its retail stores. The gist is this: CEO Steve Ballmer and COO Kevin Turner are itching to push full steam ahead and take on Apple by vastly expanding Microsoft’s retail network. However others in the company have convinced them to hold back, citing the expense.

Thus, we’re left with a small network of nine stores (with another on the way), all but three of which are on the west coast. There’s a good chance a majority of consumers don’t even know Microsoft even has a retail strategy.

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The Decline and Fall of Physical Media Retailing: A Timeline

By  |  Posted at 12:51 am on Thursday, February 17, 2011

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Some of you may find this difficult to believe, but there was once a time when this country was positively bulging at the seams with cavernous retail establishments that offered books, recorded music, home video, or some combination thereof. Okay, there are still some of them left. But with Monday’s news that bookselling behemoth Borders is filing for bankruptcy and shuttering at least 200 stores, it’s worth taking a look at what’s happened to the retailing of physical media in this country in recent years. It’s been a remarkably bleak time.

The music retailing business has almost completely collapsed; the nation’s biggest video-rental outfit is bankrupt and its largest competitor folded last year; Borders is threatened with extinction and its larger and more successful rival, Barnes & Noble, faces serious challenges. All this woe has befallen these industries at the same time that digital media–from music downloads to streaming movies–has boomed.

You can’t blame digital content alone for media retailing’s hard times. Storekeeping has always been a tricky business, especially during economic slumps. (I don’t think that MP3s or iTunes had anything to do with the demise of big chains such as Linens n’ Things. Long before Amazon and Netflix started distributing content digitally, they up-ended their respective industries by shipping physical goods through the mail–Amazon has better prices every day than Borders has when it’s having a going-out-of-business sale.) And several of the giant retailers that have crashed seem to have been the victim of their own boneheaded business decisions more than anything else. (Borders opened three locations within two miles of each other in San Francisco, all of which are now toast; the management of Hollywood Video mocked Netflix-style mail-order DVD distribution as a blip they didn’t need to concern themselves with.)

Anyhow, here’s a timeline of what’s happened to the nation’s largest physical-media merchants over the past eight years. It starts in February of 2003–a little over four years after Diamond Media released the Rio PMP300 MP3 player, a moment that I, at least, consider the real beginning of the digital revolution.

Ready?
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Google to Shutter Its Phone Store. Good!

By  |  Posted at 11:06 am on Friday, May 14, 2010

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Well that was quick. Google, which got into the business of selling phones online a little over four months ago, is getting out of it. In an Official Google Blog post, Android honcho Andy Rubin explains that the company is pleased with Android’s overall progress-as it should be–but that the Web store has been a disappointment. It turns out that people like to see phones in person before they buy them, and that they want a bunch of service plans to choose from. (Shocking, huh?)

When Google announced its Web store, it called it “a new approach to buying a mobile phone.” It’s saying that it will revert to an old approach: selling them through brick-and-mortar retail stores. (It’s not entirely clear what sort of stores these will be, but in Europe you can already buy a Nexus One from wireless carrier Vodafone.)

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Where the History of Tech is For Sale

By  |  Posted at 7:26 am on Thursday, February 11, 2010

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Yesterday I paid a long-overdue visit to one of the Bay Area’s most amazing geek destinations–the Weird Stuff Warehouse, which salvages the hardware and software that Silicon Valley has lost interest in. The place has been in business for a quarter century and throngs of shoppers were roaming the aisles during my expedition. And it was bursting at the seams with shrinkwrapped software for defunct platforms, obsolete gadgets, components and cables of every imaginable type, and much, much more.

View Silicon Valley’s Island of Misfit Tech slideshow.



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The Consumerist has conducted a superb, important investigation into a Best Buy “optimization” service that involves the Geek Squad pre-tweaking PCs on sale for alleged performance and usability benefits, for a  $40 surcharge. The investigation’s conclusion: The service can make it hard to buy a computer for the advertised price, and the benefits, if there are any, aren’t worth forty bucks.

It’s certainly true that many new Windows PCs aren’t as well configured as they could be–some, in fact, are so laden with demoware and other stuff that it’s downright annoying. Here’s an idea: Why doesn’t Best Buy, a tremendously powerful company in the industry, use the leverage it has to convince PC makers to do a better job in the first place, rather than trying to squeeze an extra $40 out of consumers?

Posted by Harry at 7:31 am

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Best Buy Does Digital Movies

By  |  Posted at 11:05 pm on Monday, November 2, 2009

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Best Buy CinemaNowWhat happens to Best Buy when all of the content we rent and buy comes to us via the Internet rather than on shiny discs we buy in stores? The company won’t go the way of Tower Records or the Virgin Megastores, but it’ll surely miss the money it made selling CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray. And it’s clearly girding itself for the day when those racks of discs go away. Last year, it bought music subscription service Napster–and now it’s announcing a partnership with Sonic’s Roxio CinemaNow service to get into the digital movie business.

More details on Best Buy’s plans are yet to come, but Sonic told me that the retailing giant will create a Best Buy-branded version of CinemaNow, and will work with hardware manufacturers to build it into gadgets such as HDTVs and Blu-Ray players. A Best Buy representative told the New York Times’ Steve Lohr that the service will be available early next year, and that the goal is to let us pay for a movie once and then watch it on an array of devices: not just TVs and PCs but also media players and phones.

Sounds good to me. I’ve bought Walt Disney’s Pinocchio so often over the past twenty-four years, in so many slight variants, that I’ve lost track. I’d love to think that I could buy it just one more time and be done with it–if not for life then at least for a long, long time to come…



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Microsoft Sells Crud-Free PCs

By  |  Posted at 3:29 pm on Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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Microsoft StoreWhenever anybody asks me for my take on Windows 7, I share my largely positive reaction, but am careful to insert a note of necessary gloom: If PC manufacturers lard up Windows 7 machines with adware, demoware, and various other forms of unwantedware, they’re going to ruin a good thing.

Turns out Microsoft apparently has the same concern. Over at TechFlash, Todd Bishop is reporting that the company is not only selling PCs at its retail stores and online but has customized them to be free of junkware (and to include a bunch of Microsoft apps and services, including  the ones it removed from Windows 7.) Here, for instance, is an HP Pavilion that sells for the same price it does at HP’s own site (OK, for a penny more).

I’m not sure whether Microsoft hopes to sell vast quantities of PCs, but even if these “Signature” systems are nothing more than an experiment, I like the idea–and I’d like to think that they’ll shame the worst offenders among PC manufacturers into shipping machines that treat Windows 7 (and more important, customers) with a certain degree of dignity that’s often lacking in the PC world. (The lack of cruft on Macs is one of several reasons why all Macs make a better first impression than most Windows systems.)

Side note: I just bought an Asus thin-and-light notebook that’s running Windows 7. It’s certainly not crippled by crud, but I can’t understand why Asus dumps an icon for a little self-running sales demo of the PC on the desktop. Isn’t that a little like a realtor telling you it’s your responsibility to remove the FOR SALE sign from the house you just bought?



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5Words: Microsoft goes into PC Business

By  |  Posted at 1:11 pm on Thursday, October 22, 2009

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5wordsMicrosoft becomes a PC reseller.

Dell’s Adamo seen in public.

Microsoft Store looks awfully familiar.

Boot Camp’s Windows 7 support.

Let’s dismantle a Magic Mouse.

Nokia sues Apple over iPhone.

Best Buy getting Droid momentarily?

Why Google Social Search matters.

The tiniest terabyte ever seen.

________________________

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1999 Microsoft Store vs. 2009 Microsoft Store

By  |  Posted at 2:45 am on Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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It’s official: the first Microsoft Store will be opening on this Thursday at 10am in Scottsdale, Arizona–logically timed to coincide with the launch of Windows 7. Nearly all articles about the company’s foray into retailing (a) point out that it’s a delayed reaction to the mammoth success of the Apple Stores; and (b) mention the fact that Microsoft’s first mall store was MicrosoftSF, which opened at San Francisco’s Metreon in 1999 and lasted only a little over two years before folding. (It was apparently an early victim of the Metreon curse which has since claimed nearly all of the mall’s merchants except for its movie theater, a bookstore, and some of the restaurants.)

Nobody accused Micorosft of aping Apple with MicrosoftSF–because that first Redmondian storefront opened almost two years before the first Apple Store did, and closed a few months after the Apple Stores got rolling. I visited the store several times, but don’t remember it very well, which might be part of the problem; it didn’t have a lot of personality. (If anything, it was in the mode of Sony’s Sony Style stores–in fact, it was actually operated by Sony, not Microsoft.) We’ll see if the new effort takes off–I’m still trying to figure out whether the world really needs a store devoted to the disparate stuff that Microsoft sells.

Here’s a quick comparison of the Microsoft store of 1999 versus this decade’s version, based on resources such as Microsoft’s original press release and a largely favorable piece Salon published at the time. Microsoft seems to be trying hard to keep what’s inside the Scottsdale store a surprise until Thursday, but I’ve pieced together some information and speculation based on sources such as Gizmodo’s leaked concept presentation for the chain.

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Nine Reasons RadioShack Shouldn’t Change Its Name

By  |  Posted at 1:03 am on Monday, August 3, 2009

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Radio Shack Catalog[UPDATE: RadioShack has released a press release about all this, and I still can't tell if it's changing its name or not.]

Funny thing about RadioShack: I’m not sure if I’ve been inside its stores more than a dozen times over the past seven or eight years…and yet I still feel proprietary about it. The company’s TRS-80 microcomputers were what got me interested in technology in the first place. In college, I was a frequent customer of the location on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, the oldest remaining store in the chain. I live about a mile from a RadioShack, and as I think about it, I believe I’ve either worked or lived within a mile of a RadioShack for the majority of my life. Which is nothing exceptional; the company is as omnipresent as any business that doesn’t sell hamburgers, chicken, donuts, or coffee.

Tonight, rumor has it that RadioShack is planning to change its branding to The Shack. I dunno if it’s true–the scuttlebutt that Pizza Hut was going to become The Hut turned out to be overblown–but there’s already a page on RadioShack.com with the slogan “Our friends call us The Shack.” If the 88-year-old electronics retailer is indeed dumping its name, I think it’s a bad idea, and I’m pretty sure I’m not just being resistant to change. After the jump, nine arguments against the new identity.

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Best Buy’s Interesting, Imperfect Experiment in Customer Service Via Twitter

By  |  Posted at 12:09 pm on Tuesday, July 28, 2009

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TwelpforceOver at Zatz Not Funny, blogger (and frequent Technologizer commenter) Dave Zatz has blogged about Twelpforce, Best Buy’s interesting experiment in aggregating the knowledge of hundreds of its “blue shirt” staffers into one Twitterstream of advice for Best Buy customers. Dave points out that some of the blue shirts’ tweets (both on Twelpforce and their own Twitter accounts, which you might stumble across while reading) are a tad odd. He also says that the Twelpforce feed’s method of aggregation eliminates the “in reply to” links that make it a lot easier to read a Twitter conversation.

Perusing Twelpforce led me to a couple of other conclusions:

1) It’s increasingly clear that Twitter sees the use of its service as a customer service tool to be one of the keys to its long-term success. But Twelpforce is, among other things, a reminder that Twitter just isn’t a very good platform for customer service. Even if it did preserve “in reply to” links, it would be tough to reliably follow a discussion, in part because Twitter still doesn’t provide true threaded discussions. Twitter is generally pretty guarded about telling the world what it’s up to, but I’m wondering if it plans to roll out the features that would make it easier for companies to help their customers via Twitter. (The fact that folks such as Frank Eliason and the @comcastcares team do so much is a testament as much to their hard work as the power of Twitter in its current form.)

2) It’s fascinating to see Best Buy let the blue shirts do their thing in an open, largely uncensored venue. Oddly enough, the blue shirts in Best Buy commercials are consistently smart, courteous, and generally with it; the real blue shirts I’ve dealt with over the years have been a lot less consistent. (I recently had a question about a car-stereo component at my local Best Buy. The guy in that department shrugged and told me he couldn’t help, and directed me to go to the installation center for assistance. Which was across the store, behind a locked door When I got there, another rep told me…to go back to the car stereo section and ask guy #1 for help.)

Up until now, customer service with Best Buy or any other retail chain has been an essentially private affair. (Unless you like to go to electronics stores and eavesdrop on other shoppers’ experiences…which, I admit, I like to do as a source of story ideas.) With Twitter, it’s all out in the open. A blue shirt who knows his or her stuff can become a star; one who’s clueless will embarrass him or herself in public. I’d like to think that over the long haul that might help improve the quality of customer service, period…



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Apple’s Monopoly: High-End Computers

By  |  Posted at 9:31 am on Thursday, July 23, 2009

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Steve JobsThis is sort of amazing:  BetaNews’s Joe Wilcox has blogged about an NPD report that says that in June, 91 percent of dollars spent on computers costing over $1000 went to Apple. (I think the figure just covers sales at retail stores, not via the Web and other venues.) Windows still ships on 90 percent of computers, but it dominates in the sub-$1000 realm and on corporate machines–two areas that Apple has strategically chosen not to take seriously.

In other words, both Microsoft and Apple have operating system monopolies in the areas where they focus. (Microsoft would presumably be happy to grab more market share in $1000-and-above systems, but the pricing dynamics of the PC market make that more or less impossible.) For all the debate about Mac vs. PC, you could argue that the two platforms effectively don’t compete with each other any more than Chevrolet and Audi do.



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Microsoft Stores Won’t Fall Far from Apple’s Tree

By  |  Posted at 6:23 pm on Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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Microsoft StoreWhen Microsoft opens its retail stores this far, look no further than your local Apple store to find one. The software giant has designs to open many of its store in close proximity to its rival, according to reports.

Microsoft announced its intention to open retail stores in February. It placed David Porter, a new Microsoft corporate vice president and 25-year Wal-Mart veteran, as the executive in charge of its retail endeavors.

The notion that a Microsoft store could succeed has faced skepticism. Apple sells complete systems; whereas, Microsoft primarily remains a software company. Porter is working with Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, but throwing an Xbox in a window doesn’t exactly replicate the shopping experience of the Apple store.

When Microsoft announced its intentions to open store, I wrote that selling software in retail stores should be about as successful as opening a video rental business in 2010 (and made a crack comparing its stores to Wasabi flavored ice cream). My colleague Harry McCracken believes that a Microsoft store makes as much sense as a Procter & Gamble store.

Without having been privy to Microsoft’s plans, I still feel that way. I recently stopped by the Apple store at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan (the one with the giant glass cube out front) to exchange a faulty iPhone, and was amazed by how psyched people were to be giving their money to Apple. That store alone clears nearly $500 million a year in sales.

What’s more, it’s located across the street from Central Park, and it was a beautiful day when I visited. People seemed to be just as happy inside of the store as they were strolling by the park. Anyone out there want to argue that Microsoft customers have the same affinity for that company’s products?



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iLine Report #2: Nothing to See Here

By  |  Posted at 5:47 am on Friday, June 19, 2009

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iLineHey, the sun just came up–which makes it a lot easier to type on a laptop without a light-up keyboard. I felt the need to check in here, but have nothing of consequence to report. There are about eight of us waiting to get into the Apple Store, and maybe three over at the AT&T line. Everyone’s being perfectly pleasant, but there’s not much chatter going on. Maybe we’re too sleepy.

People keep going up to the mall’s front doors and rattling them, as if they might mysteriously turn out to be unlocked, allowing us to go inside and ransack the place. Nope. If we’re lucky, we might get to go inside the mall before the Apple Store opens at 7am, but I don’t see that happening until at least 6:15am.

This is clearly the first year when the release of a new iPhone prompted only a mild iFrenzy, not the all-out iMadness we saw in 2007 and 2008. I wonder when the first year will be when there simply isn’t anyone frantic enough to show up at the crack of dawn at all? iPods seem to sell pretty darn well, but as far as I know, even the most fanatic iPod fan doesn’t rearrange his or her sleeping schedule to buy one.

And while I’m randomly musing: One of the earliest examples of people being so anxious to buy a tech product that they showed up in the wee hours was the release of Windows 95, with its famous midnight lines at CompUSA. It’s been a while since a version of Windows was a big enough deal to merit a shopping extravaganza, but Windows 7 is a substantial upgrade that a lot of people are looking forward to. Will there be midnight openings at Best Buy or Staples? I dunno–one relatively recent development with software is widespread public betas. If you’re super-excited about Windows 7, you’re probably running the release candidate already, and may well sleep in on October 22nd.

More updates later, but if you don’t hear from me, it’s probably good news–I may be making progress in becoming an iPhone 3G S owner.



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