What Works for Apple Won't Work for Microsoft

metreon by night

It appears that Microsoft really wants to enhance its brick-and-mortar retail presence, but I can't figure out why. According to Neowin, the company wants to go from 11 stores to 75 in the next two to three years.


As far as I can recall, I have never been inside a Microsoft retail store that wasn't on the company's campus in Redmond, Wash. But I know that my memory's imperfect, and there is a chance that I may have wandered into the store that the company briefly had in the Metreon shopping center in San Francisco. But that store closed a decade ago in 2001, shortly after the launch of Windows XP; it had opened only two years before as the company's first dip of the toe into live, in-person retail.

On the other hand, I've visited a number of Apple's retail stores over the years; my "hometown" store in San Francisco's Union Square sees me every month or three, and I've been known to hit other stores if there's a reason that justifies interrupting a vacation.

Here are three reasons why Apple's stores work, and Microsoft's don't:

  • Apple's stores are conveniently located, at least by my standards. Of the places I visit regularly, the only one that doesn't have an Apple store in the same area code is my birthplace; but there's one an hour or so down the freeway, conveniently close to my sister's house. Meanwhile, the closest Microsoft store to me is in Los Angeles, a place I do not go willingly.
  • As far as I can tell, there's nothing at a Microsoft store that I can't find at a number of resellers for less. On the other hand, there's almost no noticeable difference in price between buying things from Apple Retail and anywhere else.
  • Microsoft doesn't make hardware; Apple does, and has killer margins to boot. A retail store is a showcase for the system experience: the computer as well as the software. If Microsoft has HP in its stores, it runs afoul of Dell. If it puts Dell in the stores, it annoys Lenovo, and so on.
Things didn't have to be this way: Microsoft pretty much blew its retail opportunity by closing the Metreon store just months after Apple opened its first retail store, in the overgrown shopping mall that is Tyson's Corner, Virginia. Since then, Apple has opened 326 stores, 235 of them in the U.S. alone. If you live in a state that doesn't have an Apple Store, chances are that residents are outnumbered by livestock.

But Apple's apparently been more willing to invest in its long-term business plans than Microsoft has; at least, it seems to have more faith in those plans.

[caption id="attachment_4811" align="aligncenter" width="622" caption="If this map is any guide, Microsoft may have more problems than it knows about with its plans for new retail stores. Confusing Wyoming for Colorado could be an expensive mistake.(via Neowin)"]

Microsoft's planned store locations


One more thing: if the slides that Neowin has with its story are the same ones that Microsoft was showing its partners today the company might want to ask itself why it's planning to place a store in Wyoming, instead of Colorado.