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Boston retail tech stores – Apple vs. Microsoft

Computer retail stores provide a real value to the shopper – you get to try before you buy. Having been in retail for many years, whenever I am in Boston and near Boylston St., I try to visit both the Microsoft and Apple retail stores (convenient since they are right across the street from each other). Each is a flagship store. The Apple store is a glass architectural marvel, and was one of the largest Apple stores in the world when it was built (May 2008). As an Apple flagship store it is oversize, has glass walls and features Apple’s patented glass spiral staircase (which Steve Jobs designed). There are 42 Apple flagship stores around the world. The Pru Center Microsoft store was the 2nd of their stores opened in New England. Apple started opening retail stores in May 2001, Microsoft in October 2009. Apple’s entrée into retail was unique. They set a new performance standard for retail in terms of per-sq-ft sales. Apple stores were outselling anchor stores in major malls. Apple decided to start selling direct to retail because their previous channel-partners were not performing. Apple created ‘experience opportunities’, places where you can go, setup shop, and stay as long as you like. This approach goes way beyond a simple retail-sales strategy. Apple stores offer a relaxing respite from busy lives. The personality of the company is the personality of the store is the personality of the products –  fun, interesting and enjoyable. Apple stores provide every service needed to understand and use their products, without the pressure of being sold or the expectation of a sale. In every Apple store I visit, anywhere in the world, at most hours of the day and night, there is a positive vibe, there are many people in the stores, and there is a line to make purchases or to take advantage of their service and support. Fascinating. After 8 years of watching Apple sell tons of product at retail, and after a lifetime of not having many physical products to sell (besides software, which most people never even touch), Microsoft decided to enter the fray. If apple was going to retail-showcase their products to help people make purchases, then so was Microsoft. At that time, Microsoft had no retail distinction, and in fact their products were embedded into other manufacturers’ hardware, making them inherently invisible. What to do? Create retail stores. Start branding Microsoft hardware, and start featuring top quality products from Windows computer partners (as long as they run Microsoft software). Microsoft stores look cool, present product well and are an experience in their own right. However, the Microsoft Pru store feels crowded with product, offers less shopper-enabling staff and has the look-and-feel of a traditional retail store. Apple stores have spacious sections and floors dedicated to product categories (pads, laptops, phones, watches etc.). Apple has retail white-space, Microsoft does not. If the point is to allow potential buyers to simply compare Windows hardware product offerings with Apple product offerings, Microsoft has accomplished this goal. An interesting note is that the product offerings in the Apple store haven’t changed much over the last several months. The Microsoft store did feature some interesting technologies that I did not see in the Apple store. Microsoft has desktop-os based tablet computers, which is something Apple does not offer (unfortunately). The Microsoft store displays a 34” curved screen aio computer (HP Envy, way cool). There was also a beautiful 34” gaming monitor on display, but the sales rep couldn’t answer any questions (price, features, specs) and there was no product card to be found. The Microsoft store offered VR gaming demos in one corner of the sales floor, and many teenagers were crowded around. Apple’s retail strategy is clearly based on broad and rich work in human behavior and customer relations. Apple aspires to meet all the complex needs of their customers. Apple creates relationship opportunities, not simple sales transactions. As in so many other areas, Apple sets such a high standard of performance that others simply can’t compete. Good job, Apple. PAUL

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