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What (We Think) a Microsoft Store Looks Like

Well, here's a shock. Apparently Microsoft's retail stores are somewhat less than compelling, at least according to one blogger who actually went to one (which, we're thinking, puts him in rare company indeed). Now would be a good time to note that your editor has never been to a Microsoft store. So, this entry isn't about any sort of first-hand experience. It's about what we at RCPU imagine the Microsoft store to be.

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: Microsoft partners don't need to worry about Microsoft stores. Most of you know that by now, so we won't dwell on it here. But unless Microsoft is somehow selling SharePoint or SQL implementations from a spot at the mall (or unless they're actually trying to peddle retail software), partners don't need to do anything but sit back and observe Microsoft's foray into direct retail -- or do what everybody else will probably do and ignore it.

You've all been to the Apple store by now, surely. It's sleek. It's cool. It's that silvery gray that used to be the color of sporting excellence back before Jerry Jones ruined the Dallas Cowboys and now just symbolizes impossibly cool and mind-blowing technology. There are geniuses there, supposedly. There are most assuredly hipsters there, people so cool that their mere glances make your editor feel junior-high-level self-conscious as soon as he walks in humming some tune by Thin Lizzy or Waylon Jennings. Of Montreal? Unless you're referring to the Club du Hockey Canadien (booo!), we have no idea what you're talking about. Your editor now finds out about new musical acts only by seeing them on the "Sesame Street" videos he watches online with his 16-month-old son.

The Microsoft store cannot, surely just cannot, look or feel anything like that. We're thinking, as the Forbes blogger mentioned, that Microsoft has to be trying way, way too hard in its retail establishments. To us, though -- and remember this is all based purely on our imagination -- that means not so much trying to look like an Apple store as trying to look way too Microsoft. We're envisioning a ridiculous blast of primary colors -- yellow, red, blue and green (not a primary color, we know) everywhere. Oversized Windows logos on every available space on every wall or counter. If all the fury and rambunctiousness of a Steve Ballmer keynote could be filtered and poured into an interior space, that's what we imagine the Microsoft store looking like. In very few companies are people as hung up on themselves and their organization as are folks at Microsoft. Probably only Apple compares, but Apple has a sense of decorum.

The only part of the Microsoft store we can imagine being cool is the Xbox part, which we're figuring is pretty big. But it couldn't attract many teenagers because of the inherent lameness of the rest of the space. For some reason, we imagine Microsoft's store looking like an old Babbage's from the '80s, with packaged productivity software on shelves all over the walls and therapeutic keyboards and mice targeted to the over-75 set. Oh, sure, the real Microsoft stores are probably full of HD screens and stunning Windows Phone devices, but it's just hard to imagine Microsoft looking up to date in a physical sense. What does that say about the company? Or does it just say something about us?

We're guessing that, aside from all the primary colors (and greens, of course), Microsoft will be stuck in the '90s ambiance-wise. After all, that's when the company and the entire Pacific Northwest other than Portland arguably peaked (although the dream of the '90s is alive in Portland). We're imagining a latte bar -- Starbucks, of course, just to be slightly unfashionable and overly corporate -- and the worst of those '90s bands like the Gin Blossoms and Counting Crows playing through the store's speakers. There might even be flannel and plaid involved, just because if any company is going to be that lacking in self-awareness, it'll be Microsoft. 

As for the clientele, we're seeing folks in their 40s and 50s, mostly men, mostly with burgeoning guts and bald spots -- basically slightly older versions of your editor except with thinning hair. And they won't come in and buy Windows Phone devices or tablets, should those ever exist in a Microsoft store. No, they'll go to the Apple store for that stuff like everybody else. But they will buy something -- keyboards, maybe? -- because even though Microsoft stores will never be cool, they'll be profitable. For all of Microsoft's faults -- a lack of consumer innovation, terminal uncoolness, a tendency to awkwardly try to be like Apple and fail -- if there's one thing the company still knows how to do, it's make money.

Have you been to a Microsoft store? What do you think one would be like? Leave a comment below or send your thoughts to lpender@rcpmag.com

Posted by Lee Pender on February 13, 2012 at 11:56 AM


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