Yesterday was the grand opening of the new Microsoft Store in Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. I went down there to check it out and yes, it is alarmingly similar to the Apple Store. The real question though is whether Microsoft's retail store is strong enough to take a bite out of Apple's business.
Apple currently has six retail stores in the state of Arizona, with locations in Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and one in Tucson. The Scottsdale location opened earlier this year on Scottsdale Road just south of Kierland Blvd.
The non-traditional nature of the Apple store has been a smash hit for the Cupertino-based computer company. Products are displayed on tables instead of in boxes, shelves, and display cases. They are plugged in and turned on, ready to be used by customers. Employees are friendly and ready to demonstrate the products instead of hiding behind registers. To top it all off, the stores are bright and airy with elegant wood floors.
Walking into the Microsoft Store today was like entering a parallel universe. I saw the same open-air products, ready to be used. I saw the same wood flooring and bright lighting. I saw the same hip, friendly employees with lanyard nametags. There was even cool ambient music playing in the background.
But instead of iPods and Macbooks, they were selling Zunes and netbooks loaded with Windows Seven. Instead of the Genius Bar, they had an Answers counter. It was weird at first, but like they say in "Pirates of Silicon Valley:" Good artists copy, great artists steal.
The store was absolutely packed with people during the middle of the day on a Thursday. There were hoardes of employees and a motley crew of customers including everyone from bearded old men to little kids. Several XBOX 360 game consoles were set up with their screens projected on the wall.
The walls of the store were covered in a massive array of nearly-borderless LCD monitors. They had a cool spacey-looking background with product ads cycling through every few minutes.
Several of the Microsoft Surface platforms were on display throughout the store, at various heights for various-sized customers. The shorter one was running a kids game while the taller ones were being used to demo the Photo Viewer and Virtual Earth applications. It wasn't long before I had a chance to use one for myself.
The Surface platform was like a magnet: anyone who walked by it stopped dead in their tracks to watch. Using only my fingers, I pulled up a map of the United States and zoomed in to Las Vegas, Nevada. I tapped the icon to switch to Satellite view and a high-resolution image of The Strip appeared. I was able to zoom in on some very fine details at each of the major resort-casinos. Overall it was very easy to use. The only thing I couldn't find was any sort of Street Level view, a feature found in Google Earth.
The Microsoft Store in Scottsdale had lots of cool things on display to see and touch. The employees were friendly and a cute female employee even gave me a free "Bing" t-shirt. If the new Windows 7 is strong enough to repair Microsoft's image with customers after the Windows Vista disaster, then this new retail store could very well be a key component of a new and stronger Microsoft.