It seems like everyone in the blogosphere has something to say about Microsoft’s upcoming attempt at opening retail stores. Now it’s my turn. In my opinion, Apple has created the best possible personal computer purchasing experience. I honestly do not see how Microsoft can come close to creating a similar experience.
Let’s take a look at Apple’s strategy. Basically, the geniuses behind Apple retail converted the reliability of their computers into stores. One company designs the software and carefully matches it with the appropriate hardware. That same company now holds your hand as you purchase the products, offers training services on how to use them, and repairs them when they have problems. If you live near an Apple store, this process is a series of face to face interactions that form long-term relationships.
One of the many, many reasons I have heard why Windows is better than OS X is hardware opportunities. Windows has virtually no hardware limitations. If you want to upgrade your graphics card you simply buy a new one, install some drivers, and restart (in theory). Windows enthusiasts always enjoy reciting that fact in Mac vs. Windows arguments discussions. However, this is exactly why I believe Microsoft retail will be a giant mess.
Windows is available on dozens of hardware manufacturers. How can Microsoft stores possibly support people who come in with problems when there are tens of thousands of computer permutations? Will they even attempt to support everyone, or only support the hardware they sell in the stores? How can Microsoft expect to build relationships with customers when Dell, Toshiba, and HP are written all over the products sold at their stores? Don’t the hardware companies want those relationships?
I expect the line between Microsoft software and a different company’s hardware will become blurred. If you buy a computer in a Microsoft store and turn it on only to see Microsoft software, is it really a Dell? If that computer has problems and you take it back to the Microsoft store for repairs, do you even care if they ship it back to Dell? If you are trained to use Microsoft software to organize your photos and upload them to a Microsoft website, do you care less about what kind of digital camera you use? Your only encounters as a Microsoft customer are with people wearing shirts with the Microsoft logo. To me, this all comes together as the new Microsoft Computer.
Let’s be honest. Microsoft does not produce fanboys (and girls) like Apple. New operating system coming out? There’s a line at the Apple store. New iPhone? Also a line. Windows 7? Windows 8? A Zune that can scramble your eggs? I highly doubt it.
For disclosure I must admit that I worked in an Apple store for several months as a nights and weekends gig (student loans are expensive!). Most of the employees really enjoy what they do. They want to pass on their passion to customers who are tired of viruses and crashing. I think it will be a challenge for Microsoft to gather multiple teams of employees like that.
I think Microsoft desires to create a similar hand-holding purchasing experience. They want to show us how easy it is to create a digital movie and burn it to a DVD using Microsoft software. They want to show us the wonders of Windows Live and teach us all there is to know about Microsoft Office. They have been watching for years as Apple sells more and more copies of iWork and MobileMe subscriptions to people who actually learn how to use each part of the Apple ecosystem thanks to the One to One program. This is an opportunity for Microsoft to liven up its image outside of the enterprise realm and get people excited for the brand. Let’s see what they can come up with.
It’ll be tough to compete with all of those glass staircases.