This was a big morning for Microsoft: it opened its first retail store in Boston (but not its first in New England), and it took the wraps off its first major logo revision in a quarter-century. That the company chose Beantown as the venue for such a high-profile announcement was doubtless no accident; Microsoft has been beefing up its presence in and around the city for the past few years, most notably in the form of its Microsoft Research branch in neighboring Cambridge, MA. Today’s store announcement saw the company further shore up its relations with the greater Boston area, donating $1 million in software and ten PCs to Junior Achievement of Northern New England, a “financial literacy education organization” for area youth.
I was there to cover the unveiling, and as described in the video below, I found the event to be almost exactly what I expected. It was strikingly similar to the Danbury, CT Microsoft store opening Adam Z. Lein reported on back in June, which makes sense; Microsoft has a lot riding on its retail strategy, one in which they’re “not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple.” The 3,600-square foot store is the 23rd to open in the U.S., so it makes sense that the company should have its legs under it by now.
And it does; for the most part, the launch went off without a hitch. The new store is located in the Shops at Prudential Center, the shopping mall situated beneath Boston’s iconic Prudential Building. Its front door – actually a wide-open entryway spanning the width of the space, is only a few hundred feet from Apple’s flagship Boston location on Boylston Street. When I passed the Apple store after leaving the Microsoft launch event, there was almost no traffic in the Apple location, while the Microsoft store was packed to the gills.
On its face, that might seem an impressive feat for Microsoft; indeed, its retail store strategy has been fairly successful so far, with its stores earning about $1,500 per square foot in yearly revenue. But Apple’s retail store earnings figures are quadruple that amount. Furthermore, it’s reasonable to assume that some of the assembled crowd camped out in anticipation for the store’s opening had ulterior motives for their excitement. One teenage girl said as much to a Boston.com interviewer, admitting that she’d been drawn by the promise of Lenny Kravitz tickets. In addition, Microsoft was offering gift cards and other enticements to folks near the head of the line, as well as the usual incentives for the infamous Smoked By Windows Phone Challenge.
But even if those incentives helped draw the first crowds in, it seems the new Microsoft store’s appeal has staying power. I stuck around after the initial wave of gift-bag-seekers, VIPs, and field-trip kids passed, while the event staff was busily breaking down queue stanchions and the TV cameras were floating off in their news vans. There was still plenty of excitement in the store, with folks asking questions of the employees at the service desk, playing Kinect games on the wraparound video display, and even buying a computer or two. The store is in a prime location near the center of this particular mall, the smart new logos on its exterior easily catching the eye, while the spacious, brightly-lit interior beckons shoppers with its welcoming warmth.
So Microsoft isn’t necessarily doing much new with its Boston store, keeping it on the same path as its predecessors. But that’s not a bad thing. The company’s strategy is sound. Though some still deride it for “copying Apple” in the direct-to-retail aproach, Microsoft didn’t have a choice. One of its huge partners, big-box tech stalwart Best Buy, is in serious trouble … and considering that company’s history of proving terrible customer service (at least to me), that’s no surprise. Microsoft needs to counter that brand-damaging event by taking direct control of the relationship between its products and its customers, and the absolute best way to do that is via its own chain of retail outlets. The Boston store looks to stand a good chance of continuing Microsoft’s early success in that regard.
Check out the video below to put your eyes on the unveiling, and drop us a line in the comments if you have (or wish you had) a Microsoft Store in your neighborhood.
Additional material via Boston.com