Yep… you read that right. Microsoft’s stab at the brick and mortar retail market is a complete success in my eyes. But first, some background:
In my neck of the woods, I am surrounded by no less than 4 Apple Stores, and I love each one of them. Their clean design, pleasing aesthetics, and generous lighting all contribute to a pleasant shopping experience. Employees can be hit and miss. Some are extremely knowledgeable tech heads with the attitude to match, some are uber friendly and helpful, and still some are completely useless, but alas, that is the same for all retail stores, right? What isn’t the same for all retail chains is the “feel” you get when you enter the store. For Apple, their stores have always evoked a certain feeling of clinical sterility upon entering. Not necessarily a bad thing… as I said before, I love the clean look. But alas, there is something missing… dare I say, perhaps a soul?
Enter Microsoft. Microsoft, you say??? Yep… that Microsoft. We’ve all seen the goofy videos of what many have labeled a “trying-too-hard” approach. And nobody can deny that the Microsoft Store is a blatant rip-off of the Apple Store, at least on a superficial level. The rectangular tables, clean organization, and ample lighting are all there… But something is different. Maybe it is the slightly warmer lighting, or the giant comfy leather chairs that surround flatscreen HDTVs equipped with Xboxes, or even the giant wrap-around screen constantly displaying pleasant images and generous landscapes? Whatever the formula is that Microsoft has employed, one thing is certain: It’s a winning one.
This might sound a little strange, but this store feels like home. Everybody is just hanging out. And I don’t mean just the customers. The employees themselves are lounging around with the customers, joking with each other, running around, and generally just having a good time. I walked within earshot of a few customer-employee interactions, and surprisingly, the conversations sounded nothing like overbearing sales pitches or corporate speak. One guy was getting help connecting his phone to a Surface Table. Another customer was trying to upload her newly-snapped pic to Facebook – a task that required 2 store employees to help in, and both were completely happy to do so (even helping her pick out which photo was the best). Other people were just chatting about this year’s Super Bowl contenders, and if the Saints might go all the way. It was surreal.
The Microsoft Store is huge… with about 100 ways to waste an entire afternoon. Fancy a little DJ Hero or Call of Duty? You can kick it on the leather chairs and play some Xbox 360. Right next to them is one of 4 Surface tables in the store, usually surrounded by people with smiles of wonderment on their faces. Want to check out the latest HP, Dell, Alienware, or even the latest netbook? They got TONS of options right there on the tables to play with, all running what is surely to be labeled the greatest operating system in the history of the company, Windows 7. Fancy music? Zune HDs are everywhere, complete with headphones from Bang & Olufsen, Beats by Dre, etc. Stroll further into the store and you can see the Genius Guru Bar, where you can get your PC questions answered in a timely fashion. Right behind the giant glass Microsoft sign, a free presentation on Windows 7 basics is being given by a couple of employees, to a surprisingly interested audience. Of course all of the latest Microsoft peripherals are abound as well, from their newest bluetooth keyboards to the folding Arc mice. Plenty of Windows Media Center stations in front of flatscreen TVs surround the room, decked out with some nice videos and music to explore. All-around, it’s a tech wonderland.
My wife and I found ourselves completely entranced in the Zune HD, and long-story-somewhat-shorter, we wound up wanting to purchase a couple Form 2 headphones and an Arc mouse. And then it happened. Instant friendly service from no less than 3 employees (and mind you, the store was PACKED). One was answering a few last minute questions about color options, another was retrieving the products from the storeroom, and yet another was ringing us up from his portable register. You’d think we’d have been out of there in 3 minutes flat, but it wound up taking 30. Why? Because we were chatting it up with one of the employees about our lives (and theirs). We finally left because we felt like we were taking up too much of their time (though they didn’t make us feel like that). Talk about friendly service…
Speaking of which, I’ve met downright nice employees in my time, but none that seem so genuine. Whether they are well-trained masters of retail (doubt it), doing it for the sale (though we never felt pressure to buy), or any other motive, it was completely undetectable to me – they just seem like genuinely nice people who are interested in knowing their customers and helping you find some cool products on the side. And that exactly describes my first shopping experience at the Microsoft Store – shopping with friends. Surreal.
I’m sure I must have entered the 4th dimension that night, or Bizarro Land, or some other kind of rift in the space-time continuum… But whatever it was, I enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to go back and get more Surface time in. The Microsoft Store… highly recommended.
Strangely enough, about 100 feet away is a newly re-opened Apple Store… looking clinical as always.