by Shane O'Neill

Microsoft Leaked Store Plans: Bringing the Windows Lifestyle to Life?

Jul 27, 20094 mins
Data Center

Leaked Microsoft retail store mockups show a risky resemblance to Apple Stores, yet a personality of their own.

What the heck are the Microsoft stores going to look like, and what are they going to sell?

Well, here’s some indication. PowerPoint slides of store plans from a design and brand strategy consulting firm that Microsoft has allegedly hired were leaked to gadget site Gizmodo late on Friday.

It appears that Microsoft is going all out to provide a surprisingly sophisticated retail experience. Microsoft confirmed that the slides are legitimate, but are not final plans.

The graphical renderings of store layouts and features are a little too detailed to be early-stage mockups, as Microsoft PR is contending. With stores due to open in three or four months, the slides, dated July 7 by the way, should be a strong indicator of what the stores will look like.

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Based on the slides, the stores will look like a mishmash of every electronics store out there, from Best Buy to Sony’s stores to the Apple Stores. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little selective theft. If you pour enough ingredients into the mix you often come up with something authentic, yet still familiar.

The stores will reportedly focus on Windows 7, Xbox, Surface computers, PCTV and Windows Media Center, and Windows Mobile. It was disappointing to see that Zune is hardly mentioned in the slides. There will also be video displays covering the walls and an “Answer Bar” (referred to as “Guru Bar” in the slides), which is clearly influenced by Apple’s Genius Bar tech support desk. God help the employees who have to work the Guru Bar given all the problems that the wide base of PC users have, many of whom are not, shall we say, tech-savvy. You’ll need to hit a real bar after working the Guru Bar I’m sure.

The Guru Bar isn’t the only Apple influence (to use a polite term). Some of the slides reveal an open layout and display tables that look dangerously like an Apple Store. Microsoft is just asking to be ridiculed here.

But overall, there seem to be enough original features to offset Apple rip off accusations. The Digital Media Wall that wraps around the store displaying various messages about Windows 7, Windows Mobile and Windows Media Center will hopefully be more education than eye candy. Microsoft will also apparently be resuscitating the PCTV model with in-store demos. One slide touts the ability to watch the “Today” show while checking your e-mail in the same window.

Windows Media Center is useful, but neglected by most users. I never use it on my personal laptop and I don’t think I’m alone. A retail store could be a good forum for Microsoft to clarify and promote how to use Windows Media Center or Xbox or its IPTV concept to connect the digital content in homes.

The Microsoft Stores seem like a service and training center more than a place to buy a computer or an MP3 player — though it will be that too. That’s okay. Best Buy and Apple Stores sell products quite nicely as it is. Experts have been stressing that Microsoft’s retail stores will fail unless the company creates a Windows “experience” or “lifestyle.” In other words, it’s not enough for the stores just to hawk products.

Microsoft has at least tried to forge a Windows “lifestyle” lately through aggressive and successful marketing: from Bing to the Laptop Hunters to heavy promotion of theupcoming Windows 7 and Office 2010 (and its accompanying Office Web Apps).

The Windows “lifestyle” could take shape in a retail store. People could come there to play with new laptops, new software and ask questions.

Note to Microsoft: Please, please hire smart and engaging sales people. Do not cut corners there. You will pay for it if you do.

Yet I have to ask: Is it too little too late for Microsoft to promote a lifestyle that consumers will embrace? Can it possibly compete with Apple in the lifestyle game?

Take a good look at these store slides and let me know what you think.

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