“Coming Soon, to a Mall Near You”

So if you haven’t check your favorite news site already, Microsoft has announced plans to open retail stores (for real – we’ve even hired a VP to do it).

Initial, knee-jerk thoughts vary greatly, from the “what are they thinking” to “hey, that could work”..

I’m mixed on this one.  The Microsoftie in me thinks this is a bold but needed step to start correcting the negative perception of Microsoft products in the eyes of the consumer (Vista sucks, right?  Microsoft’s evil, right?).  The amateur economist in me can’t help but be wary of venturing into retail when that industry is hurting so badly.

Signage?Since the state of the economy has been discussed to almost a numbing degree, let’s look at the possible positive (and humorous, of course) scenarios surrounding the “Microsoft Store”.

First of all, what will it be called?  Should we follow Apple’s suit and just call it the “Microsoft Store”?  (Actually, if we’re really following Apple we wouldn’t have a name, just the Windows or Vista logo.)  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Microsoft Store
  • MSStore
  • Windows
  • The Mojave Store
  • Hotfix

The nay-sayers are wondering what the heck will actually be sold in the store.  It’s not like we can “sell” Windows Live, SkyDrive, or Photosynth.  Well, it sounds like the store will be stocked with new computers (Dell, HP, etc.) loaded with Vista (actually, probably Windows 7 by the time the stores are fully operational), software packages (i.e. Office), Xboxes and Zunes.  All the typical stuff, right?  Ahh, not so fast.  A real hidden bonus for this retail idea is the opportunity to showcase a lot of physical products (i.e. hardware, what you can touch) that the typical consumer may not know about.  Let’s look at some of the possibilities (including some obvious ones):

  • Xbox:  Duh!  Have plenty of Xboxes to sell, and have several set up, networked together and online.  Also showcase how users can watch Netflix movies, and connect to Media Center PC’s.
  • Zune:  Another “duh”, right?  The Zune, right out of the gate, unfortunately had to bear a “this product is crappy” moniker simply because of the Microsoft logo on it.  If you haven’t actually played with one before, here’s your opportunity?
  • Gaming Products:  Huh?  That’s right.  Did you know that Microsoft cranks out some killer accessories to boost your gaming experience?  Like the Sidewinder mouse & keyboard, and Reclusa keyboard.
  • Communications Hardware:  There are some really great available webcams and headsets.  I have a LifeCam NX-6000 for my laptop and it works terrific given its form factor.
  • Mice & Keyboards:  Beyond just the standard ones, try the wireless presenter mouse or Explorer Mini-Mouse.
  • Cell Phones:  Unless your a corporate guy/gal, you may not really know that Microsoft provides an OS for smartphones/PDA’s called Windows Mobile.  Why not use a storefront to showcase some of the cooler phones running Windows Mobile?
  • Surface:  Sure, no one will really be able to actually buy one, but putting a Surface machine or two in a store will bring people in the door, GUARANTEED.  Encourage folks to put their phones on it and display pictures, view YouTube videos, play games, etc.  Put it smack-dab in the middle of the store.
  • Mediaroom:  Microsoft Mediaroom isn’t a light investment either, but it provides a “whoah, that’s cool” factor which will bring people in the door (“butts in seats”, as we presenters call it).

Now, what should the PC’s in the store have on them?  Okay, okay – BESIDES Windows and Office.  Here’s a short list of software & services that should be readily available for any shopper who saddles up to a machine, including what the “Microsoft Guru” should be ready to show:

Product/Service What to Demonstrate
Live Products:
Live Writer, Live Photo Gallery, Live Messenger, Live Mesh, etc.
Have some sample LiveID’s already set up so shoppers can browse the various Live services, such as Spaces, SkyDrive, and Photos.

Show how the different services work together (example: Use Live Writer to post to a blog, pulling pictures from Live Photo Gallery (or even Facebook), to Spaces.)

Demonstrate how you can use Live Mesh to easily push photos from your PC in Colorado to Grandma in California.

PhotoSynth Seriously, this is a killer app if you like to take pictures.  Show it off with existing collections, or take a battery of pictures of the store and watch it work.
Windows Home Server Why not?  Show how WHS can automatically backup all the computers in your house, and restore them from crashes in just a few clicks.  On the more fun site, demonstrate how to serve up websites & photo albums.
Media Center Show how you can record TV right to your PC, and access/broadcast those shows in other areas in your house.
AutoCollage Take eight pictures of the store, and show how easily you can drop it into a collage.
Songsmith Create a song on the fly.

There are several more, but this is a good start, I think.

Take a page from the Apple folks and surround all the set up PC’s with complementary products, such as Windows Mobile phones, Zunes, digital picture frames, etc.

Now of course, you’ll want to stock the shelves with all the software we offer, including OS’s, Office, Streets & Trips, OneCare, etc.

Lastly, there should be an “ask the expert” station where you can discuss any Microsoft-related product issue with (presumably) an expert.  There shouldn’t just be sales-oriented people in the store, but rather technical support –types that can put a smile on their face.  Lastly, the store employees will need a thick skin as there will undoubtedly anti-Microsoft (justified or not) walk in for the sake of whining & moaning.  (As a former tech support guy, I assure you they’re out there.)

These “gurus” should hold regularly-schedules workshops:  “Get the most out of your photos", “How to back up my PC”, “Tell me about Internet Explorer”.. those kinds of things.

So we’ve covered signage, inventory, and personnel.  What about store layout?  I have no idea what this will actually look like, but here’s a rough thought:

Okay, I got carried away.. possibility for MS Store Layout? (by Visio)

The key to getting people in the store will be to move the rows of stocked software (boring to look at) to the back and bring the cool stuff to the front, i.e. Xbox and Surface.  If a shopper walking by glances inside and sees some people on a couch having a blast playing video games, and a small crowd of people going nuts on a Surface, that person will have a hard time not venturing inside to check it out.

Okay, so I’ve gone a little overboard here.  I had a little time on my hands and found myself getting surprisingly excited by this concept.  To start changing perception, Microsoft needs to be tangible and approachable.  This could be a great start!