One of these things is not like the other: Apple store, Microsoft store

Boston Apple store I was an hour early for dinner with fabulous wife Whitney Connaughton and friends last Friday so I thought I’d tool around the local Apple store for a bit. The Back Bay Apple store in Boston is a thing of beauty — and it only took two years to get Boston’s historical commission to approve the design.

It’s a typical big format Apple store. I took some cool pictures and got to meet Ron Johnson back in 2008 when it opened. Spinning off the central spiral staircase, the store is spread over three floors with computers mostly the focus on one, iPhones, iPods and accessories on two and training space and more accessories on three. I needed to get Whitney a keyboard for her iPad and selected this lovely one from Logitech. I was surprised to discover that there were no wandering, wireless cashiers in the store. I actually had to go back down to the second floor and wait in line — the horror — to get to a regular register to pay.

One aspect was completely consistent with every other Apple store visit I’ve ever made. Not only were there tons of people in the store, there were tons of people buying stuff — all kinds of stuff — in the store. It’s one of those amazing retail chains like Target, Costco and Whole Foods where there just seems to be something in the air that makes people want to empty their wallets and purses at high speed.

Mission completed, I crossed the street to the Prudential Center mall where I was surprised to see, right at the very center of it all and in the highest foot traffic spot, a brand new Microsoft store. On first glance, it looked just as busy as the Apple store.

Boston Microsoft store

I cruised around the store and noticed a few things right away. Although well staffed and attractive, it was a lot more cramped and harder to move through than any Apple store. Also, the tables featured a wide mix of brands. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but I noticed laptops from Acer, Vizio, Samsung and all-in-one type PCs from Lenovo and HP, I think. Most were running Windows 7 although there were a few computers and tablets running Windows 8 to try — not to buy. They definitely did not have the Lenovo X1 Carbon I have my eye on, however. Phones from Nokia and others were all running older versions of Windows Phone, not the new 8 system.

There were also XBox stations set up at each end of the store and lots of people were playing or watching others play. All of the accessories, like laptop cases and boxed software, were set on shelves at the two ends of the store. Yep, right below the XBox television screens thus requiring a potential customer to get in way of all those people focused on the XBox playing. So the physical layout left a lot to be desired.

But the punchline, of course, was that in the 20 minutes I spent perusing the store I did not see a single person buy anything. Not one thing. Why would that be? I’m open to anyone’s theories. A couple of things occured to me:

  • Lack of consistency: At Apple, distinct areas of each store are dedicated to one thing, such as iPods or laptops. In each area, there’s just a whole bunch of the same machines to play with. The message is pretty clear and there’s not much comparing to be done. At Microsoft, too much was jumbled together and yet everything was split apart. I am in the market for a laptop. Should I go to the table called “laptops,” “ultrabooks” or “entertainment laptops”? And each table had a half dozen compeletly different models each with its own tiny sign filled with tiny print showing the specs.
  • Poor layout: As I mentioned above, everything felt cramped, packed together and in the way of everything else. I went to look at the laptop cases but quickly realized I was blocking the view of some people watching an XBox player on a big screen TV on the wall above where the cases were. Embarrassing. And where would I pay? No idea. It made me feel confused. So cramped, embarrased and confused. Not emotions I associate with a positive buying experience.
  • Mixed branding: People see Apple ads on TV or otherwise decide they want to buy an Apple product. So they head to an Apple store. Makes sense. I see a Samsung ad on TV. Where do I go? Is there a Samsung store? What do they have to do with Microsoft? Is Samsung’s Android phone there? I want a Lenovo laptop running Microsoft Windows. It’s actually not here.

Other thoughts?

p.s. Dinner was at Bin 26 Enoteca, an upscale Italian place on Charles Street near the Boston Common with good food and a ridiculous wine list. Recommended.

  • neutrino23

    Maybe you could have checked out with the Apple store app. I’ve tried it a few times. It’s an odd feeling to scan something and walk out of the store without the help of a sales assistant.

  • Miki Hoshii

    Purely semantically, because you’re only comparing two things, both of the things you’re comparing are necessarily unlike the other.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesshannon James Shannon

    It’s very strange, scan, sign in, go. (and such tiny barcodes)

    Even better with the display Macbooks, grab, unplug, Run!

  • Lol

    How does it work that only one of two things is not like the other?

  • Dave

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the Apple store near where I live is very much a victim of its success. Stuffed with people at all times, frayed tempers and queues at the Genius bar and impossible to find staff who can help or een let you buy something. I don’t think average Apple stores outside the flagships can be held up as a way to do retail any more. They just don’t work.

  • http://twitter.com/wcdolphin Cory Dolphin

    What interests me more is how much the Microsoft Store will change in some three weeks when the Surface and Windows Phone 8 are released.
    Microsoft is changing, and the store has a huge lag to it, I for one, can’t wait to see how the public reacts to Microsoft’s new face.

  • http://flekkzo.blogspot.com John “Flekkzo” Gustafsson

    Sounds like the only solution is to open even more stores then. Has to be a pretty good problem to have as far as problems to have goes :)

  • http://flekkzo.blogspot.com John “Flekkzo” Gustafsson

    I think it will be more clear if you do this little experiment. What if the stores remained the same, but sold the others products?

    Because it boils down to products. They simply aren’t as good. Choosing a Mac is easy. So is choosing any iDevice. Or to choose to not want anything Apple for that matter. I have no idea which laptop I would pick out in a Microsoft store.

    First, which one won’t just downright suck. I detest all HPs I’ve had. Never even once did they work well. They were creaky plastic horror stories. Same with Acer and Dell. So brand isn’t clear. What model then? Which one is really fast, has 16 or more GB of RAM, super high res screen, thin, light, sturdy, and not a poor industrial design rip off of Sir Ives work? I couldn’t tell you.

    Microsoft needs to simplify. Nokia phones. One band of computers. Few models. Nothing but the best of what’s out there. XBox they do right. No software (they have a software store and they need to use it!) in boxes.

    The one thing everyone should copy is Apple’s focus. I’d like to see more companies have that oh so important focus. And that is why their stores work better.

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewMartin81 Andrew Martin

    I feel like the first point though is the coolest thing about Windows hardware—there’s a huge variety of options not just oh there’s 3 types of laptops and some slight configuration differences but there are ultrabooks, there are traditional laptops and there are desktop replacement type boxes with loads of features.

    If you’re getting a Windows Machine you get to choose what kind? Why is that bad to have it reflected in the store? If I want a thing that meets my personal desired specifications they’re likely to have it. Apple’s focus is nice but if you don’t fall into one of their imagined customer niches it can be constricting.

  • http://twitter.com/tWiZsHiZ sHiZ.us

    I feel more comfortable hanging with the people at MS Store than I do at the Apple Store. The Apple Store does not have a lot to offer because it is only Apple products. At a Microsoft Store, I have a lot more options to choose from. Also, you can ask the team members there to get information about other services that is offered at the MS Store. Please, MS Store is new. Eventually they will have to expand as more business comes to the stores.
    To tell you the truth, I feel more cramped at the Apple Store than I do at the MS Store. This is all matter of opinion of course.
    Also, and last, Apple makes everything themselves, except the different components internally. Microsoft has always had OEM’s making hardware for their software. To say that no one knows where to buy a Samsung computer, you can go just about anywhere that sells computers from WalMart, BestBuy, CompUSA, MS Store, and more. It is not confusing. It may have been confusing to you, but not confusing for many people.
    You just love Apple products. Well, I just love Microsoft products. Opinions are okay, everyone has them.

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