Microsoft’s first flagship store opens as new Surface models go on sale

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Microsoft Retail Experience Replaces Fendi on Fifth Avenue; Line at the ‘Answer Desk’.

I and a throng of journalists packed a double-decker tour bus this morning to get an overhead glimpse as (MSFT) executives cut the ribbon on the company’s new flagship store on Fifth Avenue, five blocks down from Apple’s (AAPL) flagship store. The new flagship, along with a Sydney store due to open in time for the holiday season, signals a global expansion and renewed commitment to reaching out to customers through retail as key Windows 10 devices ship into a flagging PC market. It will be multi-storey, have polished wooden floors, display screens covering the walls, interactive displays, a place for people to play Xbox, and a help desk for customers wanting support with their Microsoft products.

The store was packed, with crowds on all three of the floors of the former Fendi building at 677 Fifth Avenue, sitting between Tommy Hilfiger and Stuart Weizman. The store’s Answer Desk — akin to the Genius Bar at Apple stores — offers PC and phone support to customers, even if they didn’t buy the device at a Microsoft store.

Since opening its first store in 2009, Microsoft has expanded its retail footprint to include more than 110 stores across the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada. For the Fifth Avenue store’s grand opening, Microsoft plans deals on Surface devices, the lowest price anywhere for XBox One consoles and accessories, Microsoft Band 2 purchase before the Oct. 30 general availability, a performance by rapper Pitbull at Rockefeller Center in the evening and a “Halo 5: Guardians” midnight launch event. The stores feel similar from a design perspective to Apple stores, with open spaces, wooden benches and the help desk – a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the man behind the design of Apple’s retail shops. “If I was a business leader at Microsoft I’d have made sure the one thing we didn’t do was copy Apple, but there was so much about what was happening at Apple at the time the stores were designed … they couldn’t resist,” Eight Inc chief executive Tim Kobe said.

The store, as you’d expect, is designed to showcase Microsoft’s software services, such as Office, and hardware — including its new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, Lumia phones, Xbox One, and Microsoft Band devices. When the ribbon was cut, and the sheet sitting behind the glass came down, dozens of Microsoft staffers danced up and down behind the glass facade in their primary-colored Microsoft tees. If you’re looking to catch a glimpse of the 84-inch, 4K Surface Hub display, well, Fifth Avenue is the only location you’ll be able to do so. “One of our goals, since we started the stores in 2009, was to have a real marquee location where we could bring an expanded retail presence,” explained Kelly Soligon, general manager of worldwide marketing for Microsoft’s retail and online stores. “Frequently, we’re asked by customers, ‘When are you coming to my city?’ and New York has been one of the top requests. The store itself, set to be unveiled in a curtain-dropping ceremony at noon local time, is just a few blocks south of Apple’s flagship, the now-iconic giant glass cube encasing the Apple logo. They had been rehearsing prior to the debut and seemed in good form moving to the beat of the blaring soundtrack in unison. (Pop star Bulldog is giving a performance later for the store’s opening, and Microsoft was giving away two tickets to see him to the first 1,000 people in line today.) The ground floor has numerous tables to display Surface tablet computers; the new Surface Book laptop unveiled October 6th; Microsoft’s “Band” fitness bracelet; and Hololens, the augmented reality system that is expected to go on sale next year.

Waiting for that perfect real estate location, which we were able to secure last year, and building out the right footprint, is super exciting for us.” There will also be a community theatre space which will be used by Microsoft Australia’s team to engage with small business customers, and also for Microsoft to run sessions for the local community. Walking up the brightly lit white staircase that wraps around the glass elevator, you come to the second floor, which is open around the center to give a view down into the first floor. In the weeks following the November opening there will be a digital workshop for girls aged 14 to 18 to introduce them to coding and technology career paths, a creative coding academy aimed at secondary school students during school holidays and a seminar on online security aimed at parents. It’s not the first Microsoft retail store — there are already more than 100 — but it’s the biggest at 22,000 feet, and the only one that is taller than one story.

On a pre-opening press tour of the store, the space at first glance seemed to be a bit busier than what you experience in Apple stores—with possibly more, and smaller, clusters of tables—but not unpleasantly so. The first 750 visitors to the store will also receive free tickets to a concert Microsoft is throwing that evening with Jessie J and The Voice Australia winner Ellie Drennan. Microsoft has emphasized video displays, placing 198 LCD monitors throughout three floors and a 30-foot, two-story video tower with 36 monitors acting as the store’s centerpiece. “It would be bad to compete directly with Apple,” said eMarketer retail analyst Yoram Wurmser. “Apple has had incredible success peddling luxury to consumers in the form of technology products that have become a status symbol.” The large footprint of the new store gives Microsoft a chance to create unique branding that it hasn’t been able to in small outlets or with third-party retail partners, Wurmser said. “Microsoft wants to create an environment stressing its commitment to the Surface and other new products,” Wurmser said, adding that retail stores have a multiplier effect on sales for companies that mainly sell via the Web and through channels. There’s also an area with seating at the front of the floor, near the window, facing a couple of giant screens, for things such as workshops. groups were seated watching a display of Minecraft, the video game system Microsoft bought a year ago. The size of the store—Microsoft has leased over 22,000 square feet in the building altogether—allows the company to do things that it can’t in smaller spaces, Soligon said.

Through the store, Microsoft also wants to forge ties to community organizations with an emphasis on STEM training, and as part of the grand opening has awarded more than $3 million in grants to various local cultural and educational groups. The second-floor video space is intended not only for hands-on training but also to host community projects such as a video training class for a local school.

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