Seattle’s Apple Store is located in the University Village shopping center. As of late October, so is the Microsoft Store.
Perhaps because Seattle is near Microsoft’s hometown Redmond, Microsoft has put a lot of effort into promoting this new store. Before the store opened, Microsoft opened a tent for people to play with Kinects and Windows Phones. If you visited the store on grand opening day, you got free tickets to a Black Keys concert.
So, overall, a very aggressive promotion strategy. But that isn’t the only aspect of the store that has been aggressive. Take, for example, the location.
The store in the foreground on the right is the Microsoft Store, and the store in the background on the left is the Apple Store. They are literally across the parking lot from each other, 200 feet away. You can see into the Microsoft Store from the Apple Store, and vice-versa. Oh, and there are a few similarities beyond location. Just a few.
Take, for example, the storefronts and architecture. Note the paneled shiny material, glass cutout, and logos over the door. Hmm…
Let’s take a look inside.
When you walk through the glass doors past the video window displays, you meet some ‘greeter’ employees wearing colored shirts and lanyard nametags.
Once you pass the greeters, you’re amidst rows of tables with hardware and software on them. Some tables are organized by product (e.g, the W7 slate table) , and others are organized by use) (e.g, ‘gaming rig’). The product-based tables are in the middle, and the theme/use-based tables tend to be around the edges. You can walk up to any product and try it out. Devices have plaques next to them listing specs and pricing information.
From head level to the ceiling, the walls are a giant video wall. Two rows of monitors wrap around the room showing videos about store specials and Microsoft software. The employee I spoke with told me that there were a total of 100 monitors on the video wall.
Beyond the training table is the Answer Desk. That’s where you go when you need support.
Personal Shopping is also offered, so you can have a Microsoft Store employee help you decide what to get.
Beyond the glass wall is a theater with a 103″ TV . That’s where Microsoft holds their classes, but they also allow local organizations to hold meetings in their theater for free. During my visit, the Girl Scouts were holding a meeting there.
To the left of the theater are the accessories. You’ll find cases for portables, peripherals, as well as some smaller devices such as Kindles.
To the right of the theater is the Xbox area. Multiple Xboxes are connected to TVs , and there are other Xboxes that integrate with the video wall . A respectable selection of games is also available.
Many different kinds of products are showcased.
There are many different brands and levels of desktop computer (all running Windows, of course). Almost any kind of laptop imaginable is present, from netbooks to gaming laptops to multiscreen ‘touchbooks’. There are also many tablets, slates, and phones.
Interspersed with the devices are accessories, some from Microsoft and some from third-parties. For example, an Acer Windows 7 tablet might have a Microsoft mouse and keyboard, and a pair of Razer headphones. A Dell tower might have JBL speakers, a WD hard drive, and a Fujitsu scanner.
Software also plays a big role. Windows 7 is prominently placed all over, as is Microsoft Office. All the demo devices have lots of Microsoft software for you to play with.
In the wings, Xboxes are set up. Customers play games with controlers and the Kinect while surrounded by games and hardware accessories.
I was approached by a friendly employee in the accessories section.
I told him I was interested in gaming keyboards, and he took me over to a badass gaming setup with an Aleinware tower, a gigantic monitor, and a Razer mouse, keyboard, and headset. He offered to fire up Steam so I could test the gear out playing Battlefield or Portal.
Checkout is easy. All the employees have tablets for POS, and everythign can be done electronically if you have a Microsoft account.
You may have noticed a few things that sound a little familiar.
… or maybe more than a few. That’s an accurate observation.
Almost the entire shopping dynamic is identitcal to that of the Apple Store. If you put in Apple products and called it an Apple Store, people would believe you completely.
You may have noticed a few things that sound a little unfamiliar.
That’s also an accurate observation. Microsoft has done some things differently.
Some parts of the Microsoft Store are better than the Apple Store.
Blasphemy! Perhaps, but true.
For starters, the wraparound video wall is very impressive. The Apple store has a few TVs which show animations about their products, but it’s nothing like what Microsoft has done. You can watch various products fly around the room as they show off their features. To get a bit of an idea of what it’s like, I recommend you take a look at Microsoft’s video.
To be honest, the Microsoft Store feels more friendly than the Apple store. The employees are more engaging (one asked me what lens I had on my camera), and the environment feels more relaxed. A big part of this is chairs. The Apple store has lots of tables, but no chairs. At the Microsoft store, you can sit down and play with a product. If you have a question, and employee will sit down next to you.
Another area where Microsoft wins is engaging demos. Apple makes nice products, but none of them are quite as engaging to someone just passing by than, say, a Kinect.
Some parts of the Apple Store are better than the Microsoft Store.
One big area where Apple recently got a leg up is checkout. Self checkout is always going to be easier than giving your information to an employee with a POS system.
Another area where Apple wins is events. Apple Stores have frequent classes, presentations, and even things like concerts. Perhaps this will change with time, but the Microsoft Store’s schedule is completely empty now.
Apple Stores have iPads next to every product. This does sometimes look a little goofy, but it is very smart. You can explore specs and get info about a product just by interacting with the iPad. The Microsoft Store has little plaques next to each product, like the Apple Store used to.
The biggest area where the Apple Store has an advantage is support. At the Microsoft Store, you go to the Answer Desk to get answers from an Expert. At the Apple Store, you go to the Genius Bar to get help from a Genius. Don’t sound too different, right? Well, they do have differences. The Answer Desk claims to offer hardware support for any computer, even Macs! They can do some things on site, unless the job requires a part they don’t have. The question is, how often is that? Given the ridiculously wide range of components that are used in PCs, it seems unlikely that they can do much on site. Apple, though, uses a limited range of components so they can stock most things at each location. As for software, the Microsoft Store offers support there as well. Virus removal, for example, is available ($99). The Apple store also offers extensive software support and training, which you can frequently get for free.
Before we get any farther, let’s make sure everyone’s clear: the Microsoft Store is an Apple Store clone. Credit for creating a great retail experience goes to Apple, not Microsoft.
But if you can get past that and try to enjoy the Microsoft Store, you’ll find that it really isn’t bad. Both stores improve on the other in some ways. Both are honestly quite enjoyable to shop in (much better, in my opinion, than almost any other stores).