NEW YORK — When you first walk through the large glass doors and into Microsoft’s Fifth Avenue flagship store, which officially opens on Monday, you are immediately inundated with Microsoft products.
Directly in front is Surface, the company’s line of tablets. To the right is an Xbox One connected to an 84-inch TV, while on the left is a section devoted to the new Surface Book laptop.
Immediately beyond, a Windows Mobile phone station runs alongside the left wall. Parallel to it in the middle of the floor is a sectiondevoted to “future” products including the new Band 2 fitness tracker and a developer version of Hololens, the company’s futuristic augmented reality headset, which is prominently displayed but sealed in glass. Up above, massive video walls display images of the various devices mentioned.
Microsoft has more than 100 stores in the U.S. already, but unlike earlier stores this is the software powerhouse’s premier showcase. It isn’t until you get past the rows of the company’s own gear that you see the first signs of laptops from its Windows partners like Dell, Lenovo and HP.
“We’re very proud of our first-party products and you’ll see them featured in the front of the store, but we also don’t want you to just stop at the front of the store.” says Kelly Soligon, general manager of worldwide marketing for Microsoft’s online and retail stores. “So we’ve got a great selection of other products both on this floor as well as on the second floor.”
Unlike other flagship retail stores Microsoft’s Manhattan location is almost like a miniature mall. The space spans more than 22,000 square feet over five floors. The first two floors are devoted to retail and showcasing consumer products such as phones, PCs and Xbox, while the third is a business focused “experiential center” designed in partnership with Dell. A fourth floor offers an employee break room and the top floor features an event space to be used for happenings such as a Girls Who Code seminar.
The mammoth displays, bright lights and open space creates a futuristic vibe, more showroom-y than a Best Buy — and all part of the company’s plan to showcase its latest products.
“We’ve designed this store to be really inviting and very customer-focused. It’s all about customers getting hands on with the technology and having space and time to experience and play with the products,” says Soligon. “One of the things that we love about being the Microsoft Store and the flagship store is the ability to showcase those products immediately.”
Similar to an Apple Store there are no noticeable cash registers or checkout stations in the Fifth Ave spot, instead Microsoft is relying mainly on mobile point of sales systems for people to checkout anywhere around the store. The systems used will accept mobile payments including Apple Pay.
In addition to the retail sections Microsoft also has tables on each of the first two floors devoted to an “Answer Desk,” what can be considered the company’s take on Apple’s popular “Genius Bar.”
Similar to the Genius Bar you do not have to purchase your PC, Xbox or Windows phone from the Microsoft Store to be able to take advantage of the repair and troubleshooting options Microsoft offers. “You bought your PC at Best Buy and are having trouble with it, we don’t care,” says Soligon. “Bring it here.”
“The bulk of our services are actually free,” adds Soligon, “so no matter where you bought your device, we’re happy to help you with it.”
This includes everything from giving your PC a tune-up, removing a virus or showing you how to make the most of software like Office. Some of the services, such as fixing a hardware issue like a broken screen, will require payment. As with other repair services the time it will take to fix an issue will vary depending on its severity.
Of the 160 employees in the store, Microsoft says 45 will be devoted to the Answer Desk.
Looking ahead, Microsoft is taking a slow and steady approach to expanding its retail presence. With the opening of the New York store on Monday, it will have 113 stores with another flagship store due to open November 12 in Sydney, Australia.
“We obviously would like to be in other countries around the world, but we have to get in and learn in this format and learn how to serve customers in this environment,” says David Porter, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s retail and online stores. “We will get live on October 26 and then we will get live on November 12 in Sydney and from there we’ll take it and figure out what should our game plan be.”
As for why it took so long to open a store on one of the world’s largest retail stages, Porter states it was just waiting for the right time. “We just wanted to be the best we could be before we came up on Fifth Avenue,” says Porter. “We know it’s a big stage, we know the world will be watching and we feel like we’re up for the opportunity. It’s gonna be fun.”
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal
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