Admit it, Apple fans: Microsoft’s stores are pretty darn fun

Inside Microsoft's new store at Seattle's University Village. (Microsoft photo)

After covering the grand opening of Microsoft’s first Seattle store last week, I got a chance to stop by the University Village location on Sunday afternoon to see what the scene was like post-hoopla.

A Microsoft Store employee shows his Windows spirit. (Microsoft photo)

In short, it was impressive. With its bright colors and wraparound video screens, the Microsoft Store felt vibrant and alive. Granted, it was the opening weekend, but people were packed into the store so tightly that it was hard to maneuver at times. That’s the kind of problem that every retailer wants.

Actually, what every retailer really wants is crowds of people buying its products.

Across the parking lot at University Village, the newly remodeled Apple Store was just as full as the Microsoft Store yesterday afternoon. The lighting at the Apple Store was more subdued, but as I walked through, I realized that I was able to better focus on the iPads and Macs on the tables, without being distracted by the store itself.

In contrast, the Microsoft Store had more of a carnival atmosphere. It wasn’t just the bright colors and enthusiastic employees, but also the wider array of products. You pretty much know what you’re going to see at an Apple Store — iPad, iPhone, Mac, etc. — but there’s an element of surprise as you walk through a Microsoft store, seeing which PCs and devices the company has decided to spotlight.

Walking through the Microsoft store also underscored how important the Xbox 360 has become in Microsoft’s quest to connect with consumers. Kinect games were clearly a huge draw, and there was a line to play Fruit Ninja on the big screen in the back of the store.

Of course, the Apple Store also had a line — about a dozen people lined up near the entrance, hoping that the iPhone 4S supplies would hold out long enough for them to get one.

For all the interest in Kinect, the Microsoft store was missing that sense of raw desire for a product so central to our lives. That’s where Apple still seems to have the upper hand, at least for now.

But in the meantime, let’s give Microsoft credit, at least, for creating a fun and engaging store.

  • http://twitter.com/TweetingAC Andrew Collins

    I love the video walls. I could be wrong but isn’t a former Starbucks exec in charge of the MSFT store strategy and implementation? I’ve always thought a really good idea for MSFT would be to do an XBOX only store. XBOX is MSFT’s best consumer electronics brand. I know they want to promote the whole ecosystem but from a retail store perspective only XBOX would do great.

  • Mike Mathieu

    When I visited on Thursday, the Apple store was half full, with most of the people in the back getting tech support. I hadn’t noticed that before. On the weekend, the front of the store was more full.

    “Carnival atmosphere” is a good description of the Microsoft store. More music, more people playing games. And the sense of surprise is there too, as Todd points out. The real downside vs. Apple is that they don’t know what they are really selling at the Microsoft store. At Apple it’s the big thing in the window that all the buzz it about. At Microsoft it’s more like going to the Tourist Info place that’s funded by the Chamber of Commerce. Can I have a list of hotels? Yes. Which do you recommend? All of the hotels in this town are great. We don’t recommend any one over the other.

    I loved that Microsoft took over the University Village yellow umbrellas (which locals know all about), and that they were smart enough to include a water bowl (complete with Microsoft Store logo) outside for the dogs — another local adaptation that neither the Apple nor the Sony store caught on to.

    • Guest

      Apple stores are there to move product. MS stores are there to try and maintain/restore MS’s brand awareness with the consumer. One is a profit center, the other is a marketing expense.

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Microsoft on creating a successful brand presence! They certainly aren’t the first to create such a playful, interactive, casual atmosphere — that would be Sony, who also have a store at University Village — but they have learned and innovated. This is great news for Microsoft.

  • Gary Voth

    Todd, you just redeemed yourself for the snark in your Black Keys post. Thanks for being a journalist and not standing pat with the “Microsoft is irrelevant” tech blogger meme of the month.

    • Guest

      Meme of the month? It’s been years hasn’t it?

  • stevej.lives

    Microsquish stores can only entertain with Kinect and Xbox, Windows will put people into a coma, and Zune..oh yeah, it’s dead

    • Guest

      The most embarrassing thing about Apple are their fans.

      • K1599

        Wrong!

      • K1599

        Wrong!

    • bigdickhaver

      wow ‘microsquish’ nice….”NOT”-Borat, Borat Movie 2006

  • http://twitter.com/michaelwarncke Michael Warncke

    Something I like about the Microsoft Store is that they let people do promo events in the store, even if your not associated with Microsoft. Pretty cool if your target market overlaps with that of that Microsoft Store. 

  • http://www.mainstreetchatham.com/ JimmyFal

    Apple stores are great, it gives people a place to go when they realize that Apples are just as confusing as PC’s when something goes wrong or when they can’t figure something out. Same animal in a different dress. At least now the PC people have a place to go instead of being held down by the PC makers and Best Buy’s Geek Fest!

  • Alex Hillinger

    I’m sorry but the Microsoft brand is about as consumer friendly as the Raytheon brand. I agree with the comment by Andrew Collins…an XBOX branded retail store would be a much smarter and consumer friendly way to go. 

  • Bill

    You’re kidding, right? Except for the dark table tops, this picture of the Microsoft store is IDENTICAL to one of an Apple store. Same layout, same product exploration tables, same everything.

    In any industry, when one company dominates consumer taste completely, the other companies imitate slavishly in a desperate bid for survival. What you’re seeing here is desperation. Yes, yes, I know that Microsoft has a huge advantage in the business space, and it’s an advantage that adds up to a lot of money. But Apple has won in the consumer space, and you just watch the consumer space lead the business space in computing as we move into the future.

    Like I said, you’re seeing desperation.

  • Bill

    You’re kidding, right? Except for the dark table tops, this picture of the Microsoft store is IDENTICAL to one of an Apple store. Same layout, same product exploration tables, same everything.

    In any industry, when one company dominates consumer taste completely, the other companies imitate slavishly in a desperate bid for survival. What you’re seeing here is desperation. Yes, yes, I know that Microsoft has a huge advantage in the business space, and it’s an advantage that adds up to a lot of money. But Apple has won in the consumer space, and you just watch the consumer space lead the business space in computing as we move into the future.

    Like I said, you’re seeing desperation.

  • Oldsloane

    that looks like a rip-off Apple store.

  • Oldsloane

    that looks like a rip-off Apple store.

  • gaurav joshi

    I visited the Microsoft store and the Apple store on the same day in Bellevue. What struck me immediately was the friendliness of the Apple reps. The Microsoft store rep looked at me as if to say “What are you doing here?”, was very curt and unfriendly, never once smiled. I’ll visit it once more, however before I solidify my opinion. I believe Microsoft can come out with better products than Apple, it’s when they learn how to deal with customers when they would really hit it off.

  • gaurav joshi

    I visited the Microsoft store and the Apple store on the same day in Bellevue. What struck me immediately was the friendliness of the Apple reps. The Microsoft store rep looked at me as if to say “What are you doing here?”, was very curt and unfriendly, never once smiled. I’ll visit it once more, however before I solidify my opinion. I believe Microsoft can come out with better products than Apple, it’s when they learn how to deal with customers when they would really hit it off.

  • gaurav joshi

    I visited the Microsoft store and the Apple store on the same day in Bellevue. What struck me immediately was the friendliness of the Apple reps. The Microsoft store rep looked at me as if to say “What are you doing here?”, was very curt and unfriendly, never once smiled. I’ll visit it once more, however before I solidify my opinion. I believe Microsoft can come out with better products than Apple, it’s when they learn how to deal with customers when they would really hit it off.

  • gaurav joshi

    I visited the Microsoft store and the Apple store on the same day in Bellevue. What struck me immediately was the friendliness of the Apple reps. The Microsoft store rep looked at me as if to say “What are you doing here?”, was very curt and unfriendly, never once smiled. I’ll visit it once more, however before I solidify my opinion. I believe Microsoft can come out with better products than Apple, it’s when they learn how to deal with customers when they would really hit it off.

  • http://twitter.com/shadesofgraywpg Stephen Gray

    Every time I’ve been to a Microsoft store, it’s been empty. As in, I’m either only one of two, or the only person in the entire store. Apple, always near by is constantly full of traffic and people ready to purchase something. Hmm.

  • http://www.sonicyouth.com/dotsonics/kim/ Kim Gordon

    I know what the point of an Apple Store is. They support Apple products.

    What’s the point of a Microsoft Store? Are they going to fix my Dell laptop? Clean my Windows viruses? Selling X-boxes? Reset my hotmail passsword?

  • http://henriqueautran.thumblr.com Henrique Autran

    Of course they are! They’re inspired on Apple Stores! :P

  • Mark

    Um, that’s because it’s basically an Apple store.

  • A. Nony Mous

    It’s funny how the MS Store in Bellevue Square Mall is just steps away from the Apple Store (and looks just like it, too). So, the MS Store in U Village is just steps away from an Apple store (and looks just like it too)? Hmm, detecting a pattern of behavior here on the part of Microsoft.