Last weekend I took a day trip with my family to Danbury Fair Mall to check out the very first Microsoft Store in New England. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for the Grand Opening on June 24th, but Adam Lein of Pocketnow covered that spectacle quite nicely (with some great video coverage too).
(Video from Adam Lein of Pocketnow, check out 6:16 for a great clip of Bing)
After seeing one of these stores in person, I’m a lot more confident in Microsoft’s retail strategy. The pictures below only kinda-sorta do the place justice: this isn’t the Apple Store riff I expected it to be, and the shopping experience far exceeds Best Buy if you’re in the market for anything Microsoft-related.
Everything, from phones to laptops to Jawbone Jamboxes, are powered on and fully functional (unlike Best Buy) and stools placed in front of every PC encourage you to spend extended quality time with whatever you’re looking at (unlike the Apple Store product areas). The huge wall of screens that wraps around the store (perhaps its most distinguishing feature & attention-grabber) is a really neat way of showing whatever’s new in the Microsoft world, and I imagine it’ll be great for showing off Windows 8 features. It’s particularly useful in the Xbox area, where whatever you’re playing is displayed above you for everyone to see.
The store is a lot bigger than the Apple Store down the hall (about 3x the size), and that works to its advantage: browsing the Microsoft Store is a heck of a lot more pleasant than navigating a crowded Apple Store, and spotting a free store rep to talk to was a non-issue. The back of the store also has a nice, big demo area, which should be nice for Windows 8 lessons later this year, and the support desk in the center of the store (like the Genius Bar) seems to be a great way to get help with any issues you may have. I didn’t talk a whole lot to the employees there, but from what I could they seemed to be knowledgeable enough and their colorful shirts made them easy to approach. It’s a pleasant place to be all-around, and its atmosphere sure seems to draw in kids way more than the Apple Store. I was impressed.
The Microsoft Store surpassed my expectations in pretty much every way, but I get the feeling that everything about it will be even better when Windows 8 is released. The laptops and desktops there were nice, but new form factors like the upcoming Surface running shiny, brand new Windows 8 will likely attract more visitors to the store, and that’s when the currently under-used demo area and support desk will show their worth. The stage is definitely set for a Metro future at the Microsoft Store, and from what I can tell Microsoft is entering retail in the right way and at the right time.
(For more thoughts & photos, see this post at the similarly-named Tinkertry.com)