Microsoft is the latest product manufacturer to follow the retail trend of setting up shop within a big box store. Best Buy and Microsoft announced Thursday that the two would partner to open the Windows Store only at Best Buy in 500 retail locations in the U.S. and more than 100 in Canada.
The stores will range in size from 1,500 square feet to 2,200 square feet. Dedicated Microsoft specialists, many of whom already work at Best Buy locations, will staff each shop. An additional 1,200 Best Buy Microsoft-trained sales associates will scale up that workforce.
Each Windows Store will showcase a range of products and accessories such as Windows-based tablets and PCs, Windows Phones, Microsoft Office and Xbox.
Best Buy has cut similar deals with other vendors, including Samsung and Apple. However, Windows Stores are different because they include third-party products that run Microsoft software — for example, hardware manufactured by HP, Acer and Nokia, among numerous other computer and electronics manufacturers.
A Windows Store is thus a showcase for all things related to Windows and other Microsoft software and services.
Best Buy is looking for new ways to engage customers and drum up sales.
“We’re confident that the Windows Store will lead to a better experience for our customers. Our customers tell us that they want the latest and greatest technology, and the Windows Store will provide the ideal space to see, try and buy all Windows PC products and accessories,” Best Buy spokesperson Carly Morris told the E-Commerce Times.
Early feedback from the Samsung Experience Shop has been positive, according to Morris, which bodes well for Microsoft and Best Buy.
“I think that in general you could look at this as being a solution for Best Buy. They have been struggling for a way to make their stores relevant again,” Retail Prophet Doug Stephens told the E-Commerce Times.
That said, “it’s too little too late,” Stephens added. “I think it’s an incremental move to make their space marginally more interesting, but I don’t think it moves the needle in terms of the electronics buying experience. That’s the opportunity in front of them, but I don’t think they’re acting on that.”
Opportunity in Partnership
Best Buy offers an opportunity for Microsoft to get its products in front of a wider audience.
“I think this is a move that helps Microsoft, in that it will expand into areas of the country that it would not be able to place its current store prototype into economically — while at the same time helps Best Buy fill its Big Box space by effectively renting space out to a valued supplier,” observed retail consultant Flora Delaney.
“Best Buy can continue to claim the high ground with its customers by saying that they support all platforms. Much as their current mobile phone tagline reads: ‘Any Carrier. Any Phone. Any Plan,'” she told the E-Commerce Times.
Setting Up Shop
Best Buy is betting that unique stores with dedicated sales staffs will not only educate customers, but also ring up sales.
“The Microsoft-trained Best Buy sales associate will be a huge help for our customers,” said Morris. “There are a ton of new products coming out that are somewhat of a cross between PCs and tablets — like convertibles, detachables, and all-in-ones — most of which are only available at Best Buy. The Microsoft-trained sales associates will play a big role in helping our customers understand how to use these products and how they can help them in their daily lives.”
Both parties will have to educate customers on the concept of a store within a store — and why a Windows Store is the place to go to get your new laptop or tablet.
“Truth is, it’s hard to say if this will have much impact on attracting customers,” said Delaney. “Most of the country is still confused about what a Microsoft store is. While there are consumers that will seek out an Apple store, Microsoft has not made enough of an impact on the average American consumer to really make their stores a destination.
“Once inside a Best Buy, it will be an interesting statement for customers to see that there is both a Microsoft and an Apple store within the store,” she said, “but at the end of the day, it is hard to say that there will be much of an impact on Best Buy’s overall business.”