Save Your Money, Steve: Five Reasons Why We Don’t Need More Microsoft Stores

By  |  Thursday, April 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Agreeing with me is not a prerequisite for Technologizer contributors. (Actually, I always learn more when our other writers–and commenters–have a take that’s in conflict with mine.) I was happy to read Ed’s post on why he shares Steve Ballmer’s apparent belief that Microsoft should build many more Microsoft Stores. But even though Ed makes his case cogently, I’m still not sold on the argument that Microsoft should mount an Apple-like campaign to sell products directly to consumers through hundreds of retail outlets. Here’s why.

1. “Microsoft” is not a unifying concept. For one of the world’s largest companies, Apple makes shockingly few products–and they all work together, look alike, and appeal to a certain kind of person. They’re a matched set, and it makes sense for them all to be on display in one place. Microsoft, on the other hand, makes all kinds of stuff aimed at all kinds of people; there’s nothing tying together Xbox, a Microsoft mouse, and SQL Server. Yes, I know that Microsoft Stores focus on consumer products, but even then, “Microsoft” is a corporation, not a lifestyle or an aspiration or a rallying cry. (That helps to explain why Microsoft Stores look so much like Apple Stores that they’ve been roundly mocked for their copycatting.) When I first heard of Microsoft Stores, I said that the notion of a Microsoft Store feels like that of a Procter and Gamble Store; I still feel that way.

2. Microsoft Stores can’t support Microsoft products like Apple Stores can support Apple products. It’s possible for an Apple “Genius” to know nearly everything there is to know about a Mac, an iPhone, or an iPad, in part because Apple is responsible for (as Steve Jobs likes to say) the whole widget. The world of Windows, however, involves a nearly infinite array of PCs from many, many manufacturers. No Microsoft expert can truly be an expert on all of them. And while Apple Geniuses who fail to solve problems on the spot can accept Apple products for warranty service–no matter where you bought them–a Microsoft Store can’t fix the Acer PC you bought at Best Buy or the HP one you bought at Office Depot.

3. Microsoft can’t tick off its partners. When Apple started opening its own storefronts in 2001, Apple products weren’t widely carried by big retailers–they were mostly stocked by mom and pop stores (some of whom were not pleased with Apple getting into the retail business). As Ed says, Microsoft products are readily available at major stores just about everywhere. I don’t think that Best Buy would be thrilled if Microsoft Stores started popping up across the nation. And I know it would be nonplussed if Microsoft took Ed’s suggestion and began offering exclusive deals through its stores that Best Buy couldn’t match. I don’t think Microsoft can afford to be as capricious about the feelings of major retailers as Apple was about independent Mac shops a decade ago.

4. There’s just too much stuff. Even a smallish Apple Store can stock every Apple computer, every iPhone, every iPod, and every iPad, plus every Apple accessory and a goodly selection of third-party products. A Microsoft Store is doomed to incompleteness: it can contain only a smattering of Windows computers, an incomplete selection of other Microsoft products, and a sampling of third-party offerings. I don’t even know whether the Microsoft Stores that already exist have every Windows Phone 7 handset on display.

5. It’s just not necessary. Apple began opening its own stores in part because it was hard to find Apple products for sale, and even harder to find salespeople who could answer fundamental questions such as “Why should I buy this $1000 Mac instead of a $500 Windows machine?” It isn’t difficult to find Microsoft and Microsoft-related products. And because they’re the default–at least when we’re talking computers–they require less explanation. I can’t imagine that anybody doesn’t buy a Microsoft product because there aren’t more Microsoft stores–but if every Apple Store on the planet were to mysteriously disappear tomorrow, Apple would be in deep trouble.

I should note that I’ve never been in an Microsoft Store: there aren’t any here in the Bay Area, and I haven’t encountered any in my travels. It’s possible that visiting one would leave me less skeptical about the whole idea. Then again, it might reinforce my gut feeling.

Ed, if you’re reading this–feel free to step in and tell me why I’m wrong…

 
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21 Comments For This Post

  1. Marie Domingo Says:

    Remember the one from the Microsoft Store at the Metreon? It opened the day the Metreon opened. I think it was one of the first retail shops to leave.

  2. Mark Hernandez Says:

    Here in San Diego we have an Apple Store and a Microsoft store a "quarter of a mall" in distance from each other. Countless people have mentioned to me that the Apple Store is always packed to the gills no matter what time of day and the Microsoft store is no busier than any other shop in Fashion Valley Mall. That's what people notice, and none of these people are aware of any of the five keenly-observed reasons you've noted above.

    If there's a draw at the Microsoft store, it's because people see other people playing with Kinect. Sometimes they will put a kiosk outside in front of the store with Kinect demonstrations. Inside the store there are two 100-foot+ continuous screens along opposite walls showing this and that. It's very impressive, and must have cost a pretty penny. Apple just has several 50" monitors in holes in its walls.

    In our Apple Store here, I found out that they have anywhere from 40 – 70 employees (blue shirts) working at any given time. That's amazing.

    So, appearance is everything and EVERYONE walking around the mall repeatedly notices that Apple Store is always packed, and they don't know why or care why, they just notice that it is.

    And lately, people are always asking what that line is for. (There is a line just about every day of people trying to get an iPad 2.) It's great marketing, and great customer service at the same time.

  3. Ed Oswald Says:

    Then again we could talk about the history of that shopping mall overall :D Don't worry Harry, I'm formulating my response! heh

  4. Jim Ankrum Says:

    I could have typed that same message word for word at the Denver stores, both Apple's and Microsoft's. Worse still is all the Apple stores are packed (there are 5 in the Denver area) and the one Microsoft store is relatively quiet.

  5. Eric Says:

    In the long run, I could see Microsoft developing more of a distinctive image and branding–as, say Sony has over the past few decades–and then opening their equivalent of a "SONY STYLE" store–but, for many of the same type of reasons that Harry outlines above, these stores haven't been particularly successful for Sony. (I have personally bought a few Sony products because of them–but from an online retailer since I wasn't willing to pay the 20%-30% retail premium compared to Amazon.com).

    That being said, Microsoft used to send out "training RVs" that were fully stocked with practically every hardware and software product Microsoft makes from xboxes to high-end servers running their server and database products and reasonably competent MCSE types were on hand to answer questions (including fairly technical programming and implementation questions)–but I suspect that each of those MCSE types draws a salary an order of magnitude larger than the teenage hipster types who man the Genius Bar (this is just the difference between paying somebody who is capable of actually doing something–and your electronic fashion accessory specialist).

    However, even speaking as a Microsoft supporter, if Microsoft doesn't do *something* I predict it will ultimately become marginalized in the consumer sector since it has lost the all important je ne sais quoi of consumer momentum. Microsoft's glacial XP->Vista->Win7 release cycled didn't help either.

  6. tech84 Says:

    #6 Unlike Apple, Microsoft does not have that much rep to techies everywhere.

  7. pond Says:

    MSFT does make some stuff, top to bottom: XBox360 and gear for it. Another commented on Kinect which must be the best thing MSFT has come out with since WinXP. A product that is fun and extensible.

    The purpose of a shopfront is to get folks to hold, try, play with gear. There's a rule in sales that if you can get a customer to take a product into his hands, the sale is a lot more likely to close. That's what's smart about Apple stores – they are showcases more than shelves.

    From the beginning I reckoned the 'Microsoft Store' would have to end up as 'The XBox Store' to survive. But MSFT could go with Vizio or some OEM hdtv makers to make something like Microsoft Smart TV or XboxTV too.

  8. Keith Shaw Says:

    We don't have any Microsoft stores out here in New England, but several malls have Apple Stores, and like other commenters have said, they are always packed and busy. In the indoor mall retail space, there's no alternative for people to purchase Microsoft products. The only place to go for Windows-based gear is Best Buy, Staples or other office stores. The best approach for Microsoft if they wanted some indoor mall space presence would be to focus on Xbox, Kinect, Windows Phone (maybe), and then some really kick-ass gaming and/or video/multimedia notebooks. Then you might have something.

  9. mediacastlex Says:

    As if Microsoft didn't have billions to throw away on chains…I mean people rail at the way they put millions into BING, which btw I use exclusively (*I don't care what anyone says*), or the tonnage of dollars plugging the 360 "redringworm" (I know it's not a worm, but it was like an epidemic). What's REALLY important is that *I* want a store in NY. z)=|

  10. safado Says:

    Why do Microsoft relay on partner's wares? they could make they're own hardware beautiful to the eye. It would be like ms software in apple devices. and sell thees devices in the Microsoft store. It should not be a big problem for ms to go that way, and it would give the public more reason to choose Microsoft over apple. some people here say they run win 7 on a mac-book, ms could sell that by making they're own "mac-book".
    PS: this would of course be in addition to the marked they already have.

  11. Robin Says:

    Several commenters are saying that Apple Stores are always very packed, and compared this to the apparent emptiness of Microsoft Stores. I think this is caused in part by Apple stores being just very small compared to other stores with similar numbers of customers and employees.

    Here in Bellevue, WA, where the local mall has both Apple and MS stores, the contrast is clear – the MS store is objectively huge, with a very wide storefront, about as big as Abercrombie and Fitch, whereas the Apple store is no wider and deeper than, say, Bath and Body Works. If the Apple store were to move into where the MS store is now, it would look maybe 3 or 4 times less crowded. (It would also smell less, which would also invite more customers to come in.) I'd guess that the Apple store wants to have a small space in order to *look* more crowded, which makes it all the less inviting when the Microsoft store is about 4 storefronts away.

  12. Aaron Pressman Says:

    The point of a store isn't to look empty – it's to maximize sales per square foot. Apple is reputed to have among the highest revenue by that metric — $4,300, about five times what Best Buy does.

    ps that is the first time I have ever heard anyone complain about the smell in Apple stores.

  13. austin Says:

    one issue microsoft has is of their own doing. they have marketed windows as a ubiquitous product, something that is just there and people are expected to not really think much about it. they want you to think of internet explorer as "the internet" they want you to accept that computer=windows. they work to insure that the computer you buy comes with windows on it, that kids in school learn how to work in office, that they are at the centre of everything computer.

    apple on the other hand make their money by being an alternative, and market to people who want alternatives to the norm. microsoft made themselves the norm as their main marketing strategy and thats why they cant get the level of dedication apple can. and its worked well for them, but about the only way they could make apples strategy is to suffer a complete defeat followed by a rebirth.

  14. austin Says:

    i have to ask, do you work for microsoft?

  15. bystander Says:

    Don't discourage them. Let them waste their time and money.

  16. bkd69 Says:

    That’s the impression that I have of all company showcase stores, Sony Style, et al, that they’re mainly showcases, and not actual places to purchase, unless, of course, you LIKE paying MSRP.

    One tack that might have worked, at least up until they quit making their Sidewinder products, is to concentrate on making them gaming stores. Every couple of years, Microsoft announces a new gaming initiative, and it vanishes two years later. Since PC gaming retail is on the decline, MS would have a niche to exploit, while fulfilling showcase duties, and narrowing focus like that would probably help. All this, of course, would have tie in with some actual strategy in the gaming division.

    Or not.

  17. Gus Says:

    Who is Microsoft’s customer? All the Microsoft products that I use were either purchased by the company I work for or came with a computer. I didn’t buy them.

  18. IcyFog Says:

    Keep wasting money Ballmer boy.

  19. Stu Says:

    Sure you did. When you bought that computer, which contained MS software, you paid the extra costs associated with those MS licenses. That's how companies such as MS and Apple differ. With Apple. you're paying for the product they built. with MS, you're paying for the software they licensed to another manufacturer. In the end though, you're paying both companies for the use of their respective products.

    That being said, there're are plenty of consumers who also pay directly for Microsoft products. For instance: Games, Office, various peripherals(keyboards, mice, joysticks, webcams, etc.) Xbox and it's various peripherals, OS and upgrades to OS, programming software and a plethora of other products.

  20. Stu Says:

    So, in answer to your question, it's simple. You and your company are their customers. The products you use at work were paid for and the products you use at home were paid for. Also, many companies you do business with on a daily basis also pass those MS product fees on to you: Retailers you buy from, banks, gas stations, government offices, schools, etc. etc. You get the idea. Just because you don't see the purchaes directly, like you do with say, Apple, doesn't mean you're not buying their products on a regular basis. Every time you do business with a company that uses their products, Microsoft can count you as a customer and those companies amount to a very large number.

  21. Arnum Says:

    Most of the Apple Stores where I live (Darwin, Australia) aren't really Apple Stores, they are within franchises called JB HiFi and Dick Smiths. The staff in the store are mediocre salesmen and women, they don't have much of an idea about Apple products.
    There is one store that specialises in Apple only, and the staff are really geeky; I love it there as they are knowledgable and actually know more than me.
    No Microsoft stores in Australia that I know of, certainly none here in Darwin.