The Microsoft Experience

Kyle, a very friendly Microsoft employee, shows me the Signature Service box.

On October 22nd, 2009, Microsoft opened their first retail store in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. I was there to witness the event.

It’s no secret that Microsoft Stores are a blatant rip-off of Apple Stores. And from Microsoft’s behemoth coffers, they spared no expense. It’s impressive, but ultimately raised more questions than answers.

An intriguing feature of the Microsoft Store is their “Signature Service.” They take the PC you want to buy, remove it from the manufacturer’s box, remove stickers and plastic wrap, then place it in a white, styrofoam-lined box with a Windows logo. This is after, of course, they have removed all the “unnecessary malware” from the machine, “to provide a better experience.” From this, we understand that Microsoft will undermine their partners marketing in an effort to provide a better experience. Huh? First question: Why wouldn’t you just get a Mac?

But there are more. Marco Arment has a ton:

“To what extent will they offer PC support? What if you didn’t buy the PC from a Microsoft Store? What if it’s one of the same models that the Microsoft Store sells, but you got it from Costco or the manufacturer’s website? What if you built your PC yourself from parts? Will support ever cost money, and if so, how much, and under what conditions? If it will be mostly free or cheap, what’s stopping Microsoft Stores from becoming overwhelming zoos of people waiting on line to plunk down their crapbooks with malware infestations? And if a lot of people go to the Microsoft Store for support, how will this affect the retail partners, such as Best Buy, who make a lot of money performing PC support services today?”

Marco is right in questioning how far Microsoft is willing to go to pursue their goal (be more like Apple?). A series of extremely expensive flat screens line the interior walls of the Scottsdale Microsoft Store. They act together to display high definition content that sweeps around the store. Does Microsoft intend to sink this much money into all of their stores?

Is this all a marketing blitz to recover from the failure of Vista, or is Microsoft here to stay? How does Microsoft aim to compete with Apple Retail, which has established over 200 stores world wide? Steve Ballmer has been downplaying Apple’s popularity lately, saying that Microsoft is a company hundreds of millions of customers, while Apple’s share is quite meager by comparison. But does Microsoft want every PC in the world to be sold in their white styrofoam-lined boxes? Are they ready to?

The final question, then, Why is Microsoft almost nine years late to stealing this idea from Apple? They’ve got a lot of catch-up to do.

I’ve posted some pictures of the Microsoft Store on my Flickr Account.