A packed house at Microsoft’s retail store at Seattle’s University Village on Sunday

The ongoing rivalry between Apple and Microsoft is playing out in various environments — from corporate IT departments to decisions made by app developers. But perhaps nowhere is the fight for computer users on display as publicly as the Apple and Microsoft retail stores.

I spent a couple hours Sunday afternoon shuttling between the Apple and Microsoft stores at Seattle’s University Village shopping mall. This is about as close in the physical world that the two tech titans come to duking it out. The Apple and Microsoft stores — eerily similar in design and layout — are located about 75 yards apart. A parking lot is all that separates them.

Apple keeps drawing browsers and buyers to its store

In past visits to these two stores, Apple has always appeared to have the upper hand. Packed with customers and sales people, the University Village Apple store looks as if it were designed to print money, from opening to closing.

And while there was a consistent stream of customers at Apple’s store once again this past Sunday, the nearby Microsoft store had its very own buzz going on.  In fact, I bumped into a friend who had been to both stores on Sunday, and he noted: “I think this is first time I’ve seen more people in the Microsoft store.”

With the launch of the Surface tablet on Friday, shoppers were streaming in and out of the Microsoft store. It was indeed packed, at times hard to maneuver through the crowds. (It’s my estimation that the Microsoft store is slightly smaller than Apple’s store, lending itself to a more crowded feel).

However, here’s one important distinction: People were walking out of the Apple store carrying products — large-screen monitors, new Macbooks and the like. When I inquired with a sales rep at Apple about a new iPhone 5, he told me that they were sold out and that lines were still forming each morning with folks trying to get the latest shipment.

At the Microsoft store, it appeared as if there was more browsing going on than buying. That’s not a surprise given that most people have never even had the opportunity to touch the new Surface. (Follow GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop’s experiences with his new Surface tablet here).

At least Microsoft is getting people in their stores. But, if they want to win the hearts and minds of consumers this holiday season and truly make a comeback, they are going to have to make sure more people are walking out the door with shopping bags in hand. A lot of shopping bags.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


  • immovableobject

    This last weekend, I had never seen the Microsoft store so packed. All the publicity has generated interest in the Surface.

    On the other hand, Apple did not yet have the Pad Mini for sale, or even on display. I predict waiting lines at the Apple store once the Mini is available.

  • Numbersix

    I went to the MS Store this weekend and checked out the Surface. I then bought an iPad. I really wanted to like the Surface, but the app ecosystem is a wasteland. Maybe in 6 months…?

  • Customerexplabs

    sure the MSFT store was packed, but this is the home court advantage and best case scenario. the question is – was this scenario replicated in other cities too? Plus Microsoft basically bribed people to wait in line to help create social proof. Time will tell – can’t wait to see actual win8 sales figures for all devices…

  • Guest

    I will go today, on a Monday afternoon, to see if there’s a noticeable difference. I want to see if this is a lasting effect or just a brief moment in the spotlight.

  • Brad Beckett

    It only appears to be “packed”. If you didn’t notice it is much smaller then the Apple store length and width wise, and has one less aisle. Same amount of people, smaller space. Additionally these photos were most likely not taken at the same time in each store, not that it matters: retail comes in waves.

    • johnhcook

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, the photos were taken about 10 minutes apart, not simultaneously. And as I noted in the post above, it does appear as if the Microsoft store has a smaller footprint.
      John Cook
      Co-founder, GeekWire

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.