As Microsoft opens new New York flagship, focus is on its products

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

As Microsoft opens new New York flagship, focus is on its products.

Microsoft Corp. Microsoft on Monday will open the company’s first-ever flagship retail location, a New York City storefront located just a stone’s throw from Apple’s iconic Fifth Avenue glass cube.

NEW YORK—When you first walk through the large glass doors and into Microsoft’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, which officially opens on Monday, you are immediately inundated with Microsoft products.Most of the luxury brands on the storefronts of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, one of the world’s most famous shopping thoroughfares, seem to belong together, like the notes of a song. The design of Microsoft’s first flagship location, which features a five-story glass storefront at 677 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, aims to showcase the company’s software products and devices for a global audience of tourists and local shoppers. “It is a concerted push to become a consumer brand as opposed to a brand consumers know,” said Greg Portell, a partner at A.T. That’s in the company’s DNA, for sure, but as Microsoft works to distinguish itself from Apple, this design philosophy seems to apply more and more to the things it produces—including its stores.

Then you see the rows of Surface Books and you know you’re inside Microsoft’s first-ever flagship store. “Everyone who works in retail aspires to have a flagship store, especially on Fifth Ave.,” Microsoft Retail COO David McAughan told me as we stood below the store’s 30-foot tall video screen. Long known for its office software products, Microsoft has been expanding its consumer lineup that includes such items as its Xbox videogames and consoles, tablets, its new Surface Book laptop and its new fitness device Microsoft Band. Tour the store with a Microsoft representative and the phrase “hands on” gets repeated a lot, because the space was designed to encourage you touch and try.

Parallel to it in the middle of the floor is a sectiondevoted to “future” products including the new Band 2 fitness tracker and a developer version of Hololens, the company’s futuristic augmented reality headset, which is prominently displayed but sealed in glass. It does not take a detective to see that the foot traffic is often light at the Microsoft stores the company has opened — the Fifth Avenue store will be its 113th — over the last six years.

That’s a contrast with the jamborees usually found over at Apple’s stores, inevitably a few blocks away or across the mall from Microsoft’s electronics boutiques. “You always want more,” said Dave Porter, the Microsoft corporate vice president in charge of its retail stores. “We try to activate one customer at a time.” Arguably, the issue has not been with the stores themselves, which are decent facsimiles of the uncluttered layout of Apple’s stores, but rather with what has been for sale inside them. That could be about to change, though, thanks to a wave of new Microsoft products landing this week, all of them attracting more attention than the company’s holiday lineup has in years.

The overall experience is like being in a slick new public library. “For us it’s about sitting down and educating you,” McAughan says. “It’s very similar to test driving a car. The first two floors are devoted to retail and showcasing consumer products such as phones, PCs and Xbox, while the third is a business focused “experiential center” designed in partnership with Dell.

We want to get deep into that conversation of what it’s capable of, why this would work in whatever use you need.” Apple wrote the script for designing retail spaces, especially ones slinging tech products, and there are signs of Apple’s influence throughout the store (and Microsoft’s other stores, as well): the street-facing facade is five stories’ worth of giant glass panes, making the store look like a huge transparent box. The mammoth displays, bright lights and open space creates a futuristic vibe, more showroom-y than a Best Buy — and all part of the company’s plan to showcase its latest products. “We’ve designed this store to be really inviting and very customer-focused.

Most of the items in the store, which also include devices made by Microsoft’s partners, aren’t tethered, so shoppers can hold and test them and, in the case of its fitness bands, try them on for size. Customers can play Xbox games on an 84-inch monitor in “the living room,” a space at the front of the store that is visible to passersby. “Experiential retail is the wave of the future,” said Robert K. Microsoft said it isn’t locked into any particular store layout. “It was not even a consideration,” said McAughan when I asked about the proximity to their rival and sometime partner. “We were just really intent on finding the right location.” It’s a quest that really started when Microsoft opened its first store five years ago.

The longer they stay, the better chance you have they will buy stuff.” The second floor features large areas for playing Xbox games as well as an answer desk and community theater, where community-development specialists program 70 hours of workshops a week. The new flagship store is a massive billboard for Microsoft to tell consumers exactly that—as McAughan says, it’s “a physical manifestation of the brand.” One of them is the Stuart Weitzman store, which is owned by Coach, a coincidence not lost on McAughan, who worked for the Coach brand for seven years before joining Microsoft three years ago. Microsoft, which has a specialty store at the Shops at Columbus Circle, had an opportunity to test the Manhattan market with a temporary store in Times Square during the 2012 holiday season, noted Richard Hodos, vice chairman of real-estate services firm CBRE Group Inc. Big counters allow customers to plop down their devices for tech support sessions. “If you bring your iPhone in here, I’d love to show you how to use Office on it,” said Kelly Soligon, senior director of retail stores marketing at Microsoft.

Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, is showing more patience with the company’s stores than he has with other unfulfilled initiatives begun under his predecessor, Steven A. Nadella shut down a Microsoft group that made television shows for people with Xboxes, and he cut the staff working on Microsoft’s phone hardware to a fraction of its former size. People can bring in their PCs, whether or not they were purchased in a Microsoft store, and get free tech support — to a point. “Extended services” a store manager told me, could incur a cost. McAughan said he wants Associates to learn customers’ names. “They may be coming to the store to have some fun — shopping as a form of entertainment…

That’s great, we’re happy to do that,” said McAughan. “If you look at many of the other retailers out there, they make the experience about the product.

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