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Microsoft’s retail gamble
Microsoft hopes its stores perform more like Apple’s than Gateway’s
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icrosoft has decided to open a chain of branded retail outlets, said Charles Cooper in CNET News, which, “on the surface,” sounds like a “reasonable idea.” But, with the notable exception of Apple, retail stores have been a “fraught” venture for tech companies. IBM and Gateway, among others, have failed miserably at it. On the other hand, Microsoft hired a Wal-Mart veteran, David Porter, to oversee its efforts, and few can match Wal-Mart at retail.

The wildly successful Apple Store is the “obvious yardstick” for Microsoft’s bricks-and-mortar venture, said Devin Coldewey in CrunchGear. Apple, like Ikea and Tiffany, succeeds because it creates an illusory ideal world to showcase its wares—everything works and is perfectly displayed, as if saying, “Your life can be like this store.” Can Microsoft “replicate this kind of environment?”

“Simply copying Apple won’t work,” said MG Siegler in Venture Beat. But Microsoft needn’t play its regular “old game” of catch-up with Apple and Google. Microsoft is already “at the top of the world” and “insanely profitable”—if it can only “think different,” showcasing new ideas and technologies, like its Surface computer, on its own terms, this could be a really smart move.

The problem, said Sam Diaz in ZDNet, is that the things Microsoft most wants to showcase—Windows 7, Windows Live, and Windows Mobile—“aren’t products that you would buy at a Microsoft store.” They all run on other companies’ products, or the Internet. True, Microsoft has the Zune and the Xbox, but those aren’t enough to “emulate” the “instant gratification” you get at the Apple Store.

And even if it comes up with a successful “fun-filled lounge-like environment,” said Emil Protalinski in Ars Technica, does Microsoft really want to compete against Best Buy and the other “loyal businesses that sell its products?”

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