Microsoft Opening Stores — A landslide or a landmine?

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News is out that Microsoft is going to start opening its own stores. (Seattle Times 12/2/09 or Mercury News, 13/2/09) Having hired David Porter, a 25-year veteran of Walmart, Microsoft wants to go down the Apple path to create a retail outlet to express, educate and sell its wares…

Personally, it seems like the right approach considering the big array of products that Microsoft can display and the need to harness its retailing power. However, they will have a long way to go catch up to the beauty of the Apple store experience as well as the 251 outlets that Apple already has up and running. Not that Apple is Microsoft’s sole worry. The challenge is quite large. Can Microsoft craft a store culture that is consistent with its brand culture? What hardware will they have to bring to life the look & feel? One interesting idea for Porter: use open source for creating the design! What about co-creating it with a designer or a sporting goods company? Niketown meets Microsoft. (Portland isn’t too far away from Seattle).

Meanwhile, there is Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, at a conference in Barcelona yesterday… looking awfully like a Jobs job, no?

This store idea is a bold initiative — but they should be able to find some good real estate at bargain basement prices these days. It will either be a landslide idea or a landmine depending on if Microsoft is able to create a sexy, well articulated store concept. Is a Walmart executive the best suited for that? Certainly, Porter has some exotic experience after heading up worldwide distribution for Dreamworks AnimationDreamworks Animation. But, he will have to mine his REM cycles to come up with a great store strategy for Microsoft.

UPDATED FEBRUARY 18, 2009: Ballmer’s presentation at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (as pictured above) was to launch the second compliment to Apple in as many days. Microsoft announced its Windows Market Place, a virtual store in which mobile phone using the mobile Windows application (a paltry 20 million) can download applications — to copy if not combat Apple’s AppStore (you have to love the elegance of that name) which, launched in July 2008, has had 500 million applications downloaded for the iPhone and iPod Touch users. The title of Windows Market Place, which is slated for an autumn launch, is somewhat more clumsy. As much as Apple remains elitist and stiff in its approach, Microsoft just does not have the same “hacker” friendly community. And Windows certainly does not inspire the imagination or stir the emotion. The WMP may find its place, but it will likely be a slow grind.

5 Comments, RSS

  1. Jean-marc

    Bold initiative indeed. Microsoft is a hated brand on the Net. Justified because of its natural hegemony nurtured by its undeniable marketing success. Not justified because of… let’s see… its natural hegemony nurtured by its undeniable marketing success? So let’s go back to the real world with those “real” stores. A paradox? Not really in fact. Redmond mogul is facing strategic choices as every business on this planet. They are just more dramatic, more urgent, more vital today. Some of them turned very bad in the past like the Internet curve badly negotiated. But its financial strength allowed him to survive. Nevertheless this kind of downturn cannot be swallowed every time for eternity. Coming back to real Earth, opening bricks and mortar stores “could” be a clever strategic move… Sure! But only if brought with new ideas, new positioning, new products, new services, new attitude, new behaviour…Gosh, I guess it means with a marketing strategy toward and for the consumer, and not only for Microsoft. Are they ready for such a move?…
    Jean-marc Lehu, marketing associate professor, Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne University

  2. Colin

    I am firmly in the “landmine” camp on this one. I think the fundamental obstacle for a software company (Microsoft) versus a hardware company (Apple) is that you can’t easily create a physical space to touch, feel and interact with your product.

    Apple is one of the most revolutionary design driven companies in history and therefore creating stunning, modern, esthetic store environments is a perfectly natural and brand supporting investment that allows you to “feel” the product.

    Microsoft, historically focused on tone deaf product launches, force fed applications and upgrades not to mention zero choice license restrictions, could only hope to achieve a “me-too” result at best and image and PR disaster at worst with this store strategy.

    I think this has the potential to be as uninteresting and misguided as the ING Cafe’s that are sadly showing up empty in major cities throughout the USA.

    P.S. this was written on my MAC…….biased? perhaps.

  3. Mike

    Microsoft has either a muddled (best case) or a negative image to consumers. I think they’ll struggle to achieve 20% of the success of Apple at retail. That said, it’s not a dumb thing to do. They need to try to make people want Microsoft products instead of just putting up with them, because their stranglehold on the PC operating system market is going to become less and less relevant as more and more applications and services migrate to “the cloud”.

  4. Minter

    @Jean-marc, I hear you. What they will need to do is SURPRISE us. Microsoft has no positive emotional values attached it.

    If they can get over the hardware issue you rightly bring up @Colin, and create an innovative experience… just maybe they could succeed.

    However, if they are focusing too heavily on what everyone else is doing, then they may have lost their way… in which case, the chances of success are slim longer term, regardless of the money they throw at it.

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