Microsoft, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mission Viejo, Calif.

Clone Wars: Microsoft makes it move into the retail arena.
Posted December 15, 2009
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When Microsoft’s first two stores opened earlier this fall, the typical reaction was one of “been there, seen that.” Newsweek magazine called the Microsoft stores “credible clones” of Apple’s outlets, while PC Magazine said the software giant’s inaugural outlet, in Scottsdale, Ariz., “ feels a lot like an Apple store with a slick, minimal design featuring plenty of large tables lined with laptops for shoppers to try.”

Opening its own stores was not a case of Apple envy, Microsoft officials insist: “Our customers have told us they want choice, better value and great service when shopping for technology, and that’s what we will deliver,” says David Porter, the company’s corporate vp of retail.

Nonetheless, Microsoft’s stores wound up bearing several similarities to those operated by its Silicon Valley rival. The software vendor’s first pair of stores (the second is in Mission Viejo, Calif.) both have just under 7000 square feet of space, and their façades feature lots of glass framed in white paneling and punctuated with the newly styled Windows logo. That open approach allows passersby to see all the technological goodies on display inside, as well as a wraparound digital wall of interlocking LCD screens that streams information and images on the company’s latest products.

The stores’ interiors are outfitted with wood flooring and cedar tables topped with PC equipment from a variety of vendors (including Acer, Dell, HP) running Microsoft programs. At the center of it all is the “Answers Desk,” Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s “Genius Bar.”

Microsoft says it plans more stores, but won’t detail the speed or scope of that rollout. Porter’s background may offer a clue: He’s a veteran of Walmart, a retailer that knows a thing or two about opening a large number of stores.