Microsoft has announced several times that it intends to open retail stores in fall 2009 as part of its new competitive strategy. Despite speculation in the blogosphere, though, Microsoft offered few details about the retail experience it hopes will take some air out of Apple's sails.
Then someone leaked a 140-slide PowerPoint document to Gizmodo that made the lines of Microsoft's thought somewhat clearer.
As assembled by consulting company Lippincott, which has other clients in the consumer sector that include McDonald's, Cingular, Borders, Sonic Drive-In and Wal-Mart, the slides show a retail experience that includes a wall-sized screen that wraps around the store, an "Answers Bar" that seems a variation on Apple's Genius Bar, "distinctive" Microsoft shopping bags and large tables lined with Microsoft products.
A sample store layout featured kiosk-like areas for PCTV, Windows 7, Smart Phone and Personalization, with the center of the space devoted to product tables. Xbox, Accessories, Laptops and Software would line the walls, and a large space to the rear of the store would be occupied by both an Event/Partner Space and the Answers Bar (referred to in one slide as the Guru Bar, suggesting that Microsoft has yet to settle on a name.)
One slide shows how Lippincott analyzed similar stores in the space, notably Apple's retail outlets, and brought away lessons such as, "Traffic means money," "Keep it simple/Less is more," "Bundle up solutions" and "Accessorize!"
In one notable difference from other high-end technology stores, though, Microsoft may also offer "private birthday parties (2 to 3 hours)" for a fee, along with free group training sessions and technology presentations.
Microsoft did not seem pleased with the leak, with a spokesperson issuing a terse e-mail statement to eWEEK when asked about the slide deck:
"As a part of our process in briefing creative agencies, we shared some early prototypes and concepts of our retail store plans. No final decisions have been made. As we previously announced, we are on track to open retail stores this fall."
Previous to the leak, it was thought that Microsoft's retail stores might resemble the Retail Experience that opened in Redmond in 2008, which offered the Zune and other products in a box store format. During the Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans that ran from July 13 to 16, Microsoft suggested that it would open its stores in close proximity to Apple stores, possibly with the intention of taking some of Apple's market share and likely with the hope of irritating Apple's top brass.
"It feels really good to be on the offensive here," Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer, said during the conference. "We're doing stuff and we're in the game and continuing to take some of these hard market-share opportunities head-on and compete because it's a test of will."
A bigger question is how Microsoft envisions a retail experience bolstering its bottom line. With its fortunes tied heavily to the sales of new PCs, Microsoft's earnings have dipped during the global recession, reporting a 17 percent decline in year-over-year revenue for the fourth quarter of 2009. In addition to a moribund economy and lackluster PC sales, Microsoft also found itself harmed by consumers' newfound preference for mininotebooks or netbooks, which can only be loaded with lower-margin Microsoft products.
Microsoft is also depending on its upcoming operating system, Windows 7-which is given a prominent position in some of the retail stores' conceptual slides-to drive a massive tech refresh among consumers and businesses.