Two weeks ago, Microsoft announced that it had hired David Porter, a veteran of DreamWorks Animation and WalMart as their corporate vice president of Retail Stores. Just as Sony announced it would close its flagship PlayStation store in San Francisco, Microsoft decides to follow Apple’s well developed path by opening up its own retail channel, at least in the US. Coincidentally, it was in the very same centre as the ill fated Sony store that Microsoft ran its own store from 1999 till 2001.
As part of the Vista launch last year, the company had already experimented with the store in a store concept once so often finds in department store cosmetics. Apple hit on a successful formula that supported the notions of simplicity, personality and flair, in an accessible, come try me, environment. They are destinations that Mac fans flock to. They were developed as Apple’s response to a lack of control over its indirect retail channel. Now Apple has 251 stores across the world with plans this year to grow that by 10%. The stores are a source of comfort to their consumers, places where they can have problems easily sorted out. Microsoft has much broader, more well- developed indirect channels and a much more complex product portfolio that requires third party hardware platforms. It faces the same challenge of control Apple had, yet in an ecosystem where so many variables are beyond Microsoft’s control even in retail. Does this mean that Microsoft will also risk producing or labelling a Microsoft PC?
If the company can develop its positive personality through a friendly, accessible, cool retail environment, then its entire channel stands to benefit but it is a bold and risky move.