“Most people don’t know Microsoft sells PCs,” is how James at the Microsoft Store responded to my initial surprise at the layout of their new store. Microsoft has 19 retail stores in the US, and the Microsoft Store at the Stanford Shopping Mall opened a couple weeks ago. I was surprised that the Xbox and software were in the back corners of the store. Instead, PCs, tablets and smartphones were front and center, and Samsung and Acer had the strongest presence. The Microsoft Store encouraged visitors to try out the products and placed stools in front of most displays to make shoppers feel comfortable staying for a longer period of time.
I got to try out Windows 8 on a Samsung Slate 7 when I was there. Cool device. It had a Core i5 processor, so plenty of compute power. James walked me through Windows 8, and I liked the Metro interface on the slate screen. The Slate 7 comes with a pen, which I wish was tethered so I could just let go of it without having to snap it back into its holder at the top. I liked the flexibility of being able to switch from handwriting to soft qwerty keyboard to a thumb-style keyboard. With thumb-typing, the tablet tended to waggle too much at the far end due to its 11.6 inch screen size and 16:9 format. As for the Office apps, Word was usable with the touch interface, but Power Point was a pain without a separate keyboard. I hope Microsoft effectively incorporates touch in Office 15. Otherwise, Office will soon feel like a dinosaur.
The modern, minimalist design of the Microsoft Store’s retail space mimicked the design of the Apple store, and as at Apple, the hip, Microsoft staff were more like advisors than sales persons. Hey, why reinvent what works? The Microsoft Store is right next door to the Apple Store – to promote comparison shopping? Whereas the ratio of staff to shopper in the Microsoft Store was about 4 to 1, the Apple Store was packed with visitors. With Apple it’s not only the user experience and devices, but the brand cache of a designer label. Copying a retail environment is easy for Microsoft, but evolving the brand is a significant challenge.