I just read an article Robert Scoble wrote on Fast Company on Microsoft’s announcement on their entry into the retail arena ala the Apple Store. I think his article is spot on with regards to what they should do to be successful.
My thoughts are that Microsoft should focus on selling an experience that’s unique to what Microsoft is capable of providing through their products, their technologies and through their partners. It’s a customer’s experience and a positive association of that experience that differentiates one retailer from another. For example, to the pragmatist, Levi’s and Diesel both sell clothes. However, the premium someone may have for Diesel is made through an emotional connection customers have to the brand because of design and an identification of the lifestyle Diesel represents — this is only strengthened through their advertising and in-store experience. That’s not to say that Levi’s is a bad brand or has bad products, the expectations with regard to the Levi’s brand is simply different.
Also, Microsoft shouldn’t look at this retail venture as a means to sell products… it’s an opportunity to sell an experience that will positively impact their brand! If Apple is the Gap of computers, Microsoft has the ability to transform themselves to American Eagle Outfitters, Diesel, Prada… of technology… or they have the option of becoming the clothing section of your local Walmart.
As Apple mentioned when they decided to pull out of MacWorld, their retail locations are important for educating and exposing customers to solutions and technologies on a a local and accessible level. More importantly, Apple’s retail locations don’t pressure people to buy either, they educate customers to making decisions that are right for themselves. People don’t like to be pressured into a sale, they like to be led down a memorable, positive experience that helps them make the right decision.
Like the Apple Store, let customers play with touch screen PCs, mini’s, and Zunes and iPods, but more importantly, let customers play with Microsoft innovations — set-up a large projection wall allowing customers to play with Photosynth, install a couple of SURFACE lounges, etc… answer their questions, abstract concepts of technology are stickier if they’re tangible… help drive desire of the products, particularly in a commoditized market like Microsoft’s.
Another area that I think that leads to an improved experience is don’t pack the store with crap to complete with the likes of Best Buy or Fry’s. Fill it with best-in-class products, particularly products that have a positive perception by customers – it will help streamline the shopping experience and improve perceptions of whatever the Microsoft retail brand may become. Have educated purchasers who understand both what the market desires, but also the importance of quality brands in the marketplace. Don’t sell cheap crap because it’s cheap – sell stuff whose brands denote quality and can help bolster Microsoft’s own brand in retail.