Microsoft, tweaking the store-within-a-store concept, has announced plans to build Windows Stores inside of 500 Best Buy stores in the United States and another 100 in Canada.
Unlike the traditional store-within-a-store model—boutique sections, such as those Samsung announced in April it will set up in 1,400 Best Buy stores and Apple already has in place at the retailer—Microsoft’s will be a “department-level takeover,” Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela said in a June 13 blog post.
Taking over the entire computer departments, the Windows Stores will range from 1,500 square feet to 2,200 square feet and be the “premier destination for customers to see, try, compare and purchase a range of products and accessories, including Windows Phones, Microsoft Office, Xbox and more,” wrote Brandon LeBlanc, the author of the post.
There will be an “innovation table” with the newest devices, a wall full of accessories and software, and an “ecosystem section” showing various ways that devices, including Windows Phone smartphones and the Xbox SmartGlass, can be combined.
Capossela said that in addition to their size, the stores will be unique in the level of staffing on hand. Microsoft plans to add an extra 1,200 people to the stores, to “provide a great customer experience.”
There will also be an online component that will “mirror the in-store look-and-feel and offer a full range of Microsoft products, even those from other places in the Best Buy store.”
Capossela adds that the Windows Stores will benefit from what Microsoft has learned at its 68 Microsoft Stores. Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst JP Gownder suggests Microsoft should have just opened more Microsoft Stores instead.
“Microsoft’s move will upgrade its retail capabilities significantly, but it’s not as powerful a move as rolling out 600 Microsoft Stores (however expensive) would have been,” he wrote in a June 13 blog post.
Microsoft has a few things working in its favor, says Gownder. The strategy has reach—600 stores is a lot of touch points. Also, Microsoft isn’t going in blind and will benefit from its Microsoft Store research; and, if done correctly, it has the opportunity to upgrade customers’ shopping experience and, again ideally, their perceptions of Microsoft’s brand and products.
But there are also plenty of challenges.
There’s been an “unprecedented explosion” of Windows form factors, writes Gownder. Add various form factors, such as touch-screen convertibles, hybrid PC/tablets with detachable keyboards, pure tablets and giant tabletlike desktop convertibles to chip options and use cases, and it’s all “dizzying” for the buyer.
Another potential challenge is the disparate experience between a Windows store and Microsoft Stores, if the latter is what a customer is used to.
There’s also the fact that while Samsung’s stores-in-a-store staff Samsung-employed sales associates, the Windows Stores will “leverage a mix of 100+ Microsoft-employed specialists, but more than 1,200 of the sales associates will be Best Buy employees trained by Microsoft,” Gownder writes. “Can these non-Microsoft employees live up to necessary quality standards?”
I guess we’ll see. The Windows Stores will arrive this summer.