Recently, Microsoft opened retail store #3 at Park Meadows Mall, Lone Tree, Colorado, just southeast of Denver. On July 17, I was given a guided tour. Here’s what I saw and heard.
The Microsoft store at Park Meadows Mall, second floor, is fairly large, seemingly twice as big in square footage as the Apple store, down on the first floor. We’ve known from previous stories that the store is well lit and is modeled after the Apple stores. However, until I actually took a tour, my eyes were wide shut. Now they’ve been opened.
Anthony, the chief trainer for the store, met us when my wife and I entered. She had a stake in this too because she’s geting to ready to take a new certification course in Java, and interestingly, she reports that Java 6 runs faster and better in Windows 7 than in Linux. She’s a senior analyst with a major defense contractor, so she’s in an environment where she knows about these things. She was after a copy of Windows 7 for Parallels on her iMac.*
Anthony started me in the right front corner and took me completely around the edge of the store. The guided tour took about 45 minutes. Here’s what I learned, and I learned a lot.
Near front entrance, looking towards back of store
All the computers on display, from Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Sony and Toshiba have either an i3, i5 or i7. None had Core 2 Duos. Al were running the 64-bit version of Windows 7. There are lots of computers spread across maybe six separate tables: netbooks, small notebooks (13-14 inches), medium notebooks (15 inches), large notebooks (16-18 inches), some touch display “iMac-like” all-in-one PCs from HP and Sony (Sony J, Sony L, HP TouchSmart 600) and one desktop model, a gaming model from Lenovo. As part of a promotion, if you buy any of the computers, except a netbook, you get a free XBox 360 — the new one just released. That’s an amazing deal, especially if you buy one of the smaller notebooks.
It turns out that any computer on display can be purchased, and you can walk out of the store with it. I asked Anthony about the huge inventory racks they must have in the back to support this, and he agreed that they do, in in fact, stock every computer that appear the tables for immediate purchase. The range was about US$799 to about $1500 for the high end 17-inch Vaio notebooks from Sony. Anthony explained that they steer away from extremely cheap PCs because they don’t provide an acceptable customer experience.
Also notable was that many of the notebooks plus the iMac-like models and the one desk top computer had Blu-ray drives and HDTV tuners. I thought that was a compelling set of features, especially for college students who can double up their TV viewing and computer usage in one computer. For example, the all-in-one Sony L has a 24-inch display.
Like the Apple stores, in addition to the computers on tables and racks of accessories, there is an Answer Desk, like Apple’s Genius Bar, where you can ask questions, get help, and get your computer fixed. If you have a problem with your PC itself, whether you bought it from the Microsoft store or anywhere else, you can take it into the Microsoft store, and they’ll assist with shipping it to the vendor for repair. There will be a $100 fee, however, to make it all hassle free. Regarding the accessories, we didn’t see a lot of really high end items that Apple tends to tout. My wife noted that the accessories were solid, good stuff from reputable vendors, but it was all very much within the price range of an average Joe.
Just one section of accessories for sale
Around the periphery of the store, at least in the Denver store, are 120 46-inch LED backlit LCD displays all lined up and double high. It’s the largest display of its kind in the world, and is truly amazing to look at. It gives the store a special touch as well as great advertising flexibility. You can do the math to figure out how expensive all that hardware is.
Section of the 120 double high 46-inch LED/LCD displays
Apple has started to eliminate the theaters in many of its stores, but this Microsoft store keeps one — with a 103-inch display. Not only does Microsoft do consumer and corporate training there, but also makes it open to groups who may want to do a presentation. Anthony told me about a special presentation the local Girl Scouts are doing. You can even connect a Mac to the display system. Not a problem. All that impressed me.
There isn’t a lot of space devoted to Windows 7 and Office. It’s a rack perhaps seven feet wide and five feet tall. They keep it well stocked, so it’s never empty. Those who thought that Microsoft’s store would be nothing but racks and racks of their own software would be mistaken. It’s a small part of the Denver store.
Modest sized Windows and Office Rack
There’s a fairly large section of third party software available, seemingly much larger than Apple’s typical store.
A boatload of software available, lots of games
All these 3rd party products, of course, raised some questions in my mind about the profitability of the store. As we know, Apple pays sharp attention to the throughput of their stores in terms of dollars earned per square foot. If a rack or even an item, as I recall, isn’t selling, it’s replaced with something new. Microsoft, with the store focus as it is on PCs, 3rd party software and accessories, given the money sunk into the store, may have a hard time geting to profitability — if that’s even a goal.
I’ll take a moment to note that this store, while twice the size of Apple’s, had about half the customers. There were plenty of parents with kids. (I went to the Apple store afterwards, and it was elbow-to-elbow.) There were several Microsoft Surface Tables sprinkled throughout the store, especially attractive to kids. Not only is it a way to attract and retain customers, as the new Disney stores try to do, but they’re put to good use. For example, you can use the tables to select a ringtone and then send it to your mobile phone.
One of the Microsoft Surface Tables
While I was decisively engaged in the tour, I still tried to keep part of my brain on the retail process and see how many people were leaving the store with purchases. In my brief approach to the store, tour and exit, I can’t say that I saw a bustling business of people leaving the store with shopping bags. To be fair, it was only a moment in time.
I was impressed with the wide variety of services available. There is personal training, of course. They’ll skin your notebook for you. Once you select a PC, they don’t just drop a box into a shopping bag and send you way. A sales rep will sit down with you, help you set up the PC just the way you want before you leave. They’ll even help you learn how to transfer photos or video from your camera to the PC. When you get home, you’re up and running instead of struggling. It’s called, not surprisingly, the “Out of box experience.” Also, the PCs sold there are devoid of what we euphemistically like to call crapware. In addition, there is a Microsoft Assure program that’s customizable, somewhat like AppleCare. Even accidental damage can be covered. All that impressed me.
Anthony, a former Apple employee, pointed out that they work well with the Apple store in the Mall. Apple will, for example, send them customers who need help setting up Windows 7 under Parallels or Fusion. The Microsoft store will direct some customers to Apple when the situation calls for it. The overwhelming feeling I got from Anthony was that the store was designed to provide helpful advice and services, not to wage the OS war. (Of course, being trained by Apple, it’s his job to make everything, even the competition with Apple, look like an aw-shucks happy affair.)
I must add here, to be fair, that you don’t always have to be the first or be extremely creative and original to accomplish valuable tasks. From what I saw in the store, the employees and customers were having a lot of fun. The PC notebook prices are so attractive that my wife was even considering getting a sexy Sony Vaio to run her Java and Windows 7 project instead of using Parallels. And, of course, we’d (read that as me) also get a free Xbox. No decision, however, has been made yet.
For references, here’s the sequence of stores and openings:
- Scottsdale, Arizona, October 22, 2009
- Mission Viejo, California, October 29, 2009
- Park Meadows Mall, Lone Tree, Colorado, June 10, 2010
- Fashion Valley Mall, San Diego, California, June 24, 2010
I have heard that the next store will be in Chicago, Illinois. Microsoft has a public press kit if you’re interested in learning more.
Grand Opening, Fashion Valley Mall (San Diego). Yes, there’s an Apple store there too.
One could, for the sake of being competitive or just plain negative, focus on how these Microsoft stores don’t appear to to be ready to rake in a lot of money very soon. That’s Microsoft’s problem. Nor are they especially original in that Apple’s been there and done that. However, one really needs to visit the store, as a potential customer, to appreciate what Microsoft has done. There are a lot of very nice PCs for sale at a great price. Many have Blu-ray drives and HDTV tuners. Microsoft will help you set up the computer and point you to Microsoft Security Essentials, their own security solution which is free. Accessories like headphones, carry cases, Flash sticks and Flip video cameras (and smartphones and Zunes) are for sale. You can walk out of the store with a functioning phone, all set up with Verizon or Sprint. So from a purely consumer perspective, it looks to be a very good experience, a place to take your kids, buy a PC for them or yourself — if Windows is your preference — and get some good customer service.
In other words, what I saw was a lot of customer focus and an effort to create a great buying experience. The sales people seem attitude free — if a PC is what you want, they’re ready to please. All the other issues are for Microsoft to work out and the press to comment on.
Nevertheless, Microsoft has 90 plus percent of the consumer market for personal computers. That may change in the future, but for now, Microsoft is acting like it with its handful of flagship stores.
* Unlike previous versions of Windows in which the home version was crippled, that’s not the case with Windows 7. Anthony explained the differences between Win 7 Home Premium and the business version, and the business version had stuff we really didn’t need. The stand alone Win 7 Home Premium was US$199. It’s about $140 at Amazon.