A Surface Retail Reality Check

by Steve Wildstrom   |   October 26th, 2012

Photo of popup Microsoft store

Whatever the buzz that got some people to line upo for the midnight launch of Surface sales at Microsoft Stores last night seems to have dissipated quickly. This afternoon, I stopped by the popup store in Westfield Montgomery Mall  in Bethesda, Md. It was a slow time of day, about 3 pm on a Friday, but the heavily staffed store wasn’t having a lot of luck even getting passing shoppers to stop and take a look at its assortment of Surface tablets and Windows 8 laptops. At one point, I counted five customers (at least in the sense they were looking) and 10 store employees, probably mostly contractors.

Here’s a very of the same store, located at the crossing of two main aisles, from the level above:

Photo of popup Microsoft store.

And here, for contrast, is a shot of the Apple Store located directly above the Microsoft popup. It’s actually pretty empty by Apple standards, but Microsoft would die for this sort of quiet time.

Photo of Montgomery Mall Apple Store.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • FalKirk

    The numbers (or lack of numbers) revealed at Microsoft’s next earnings call are going to be just fascinating to see.

  • Rich

    Maybe the frantic and meaningless Surface ad only lasts for 60 seconds in peoples’ heads! (Just kidding – we need more time to see how many people shop for the Surface.)

  • Neil

    Baby blue keyboard.
    Kickstand that only works on tables.
    Enough said.

  • W. van Dam

    I think the lack of customers also has something to do with the design of the store. It is absolutely awful. Good design is not just about looks, but also about functionality and effectiveness.

    The MS store is on a square. They only have a short amount of time to first gain the attention of the passing crowd and then make them interested. Being positioned in the middle of the square makes the first part almost a non-issue. However, the second part is very difficult. People usually have a destination to get to, and you need to convince them in a very short time that that destination can wait.

    The design of the MS store furniture is heavy, which means to say it is dark, dense and closed. This has two effects. Firstly, it makes it hard to not notice the store. But that already was a non-issue. Secondly, it draws away the attention from the actual products. This increases the challenge of getting people interested. What makes it worse is that parts of the store look dense, crowded and cluttered.

  • Quicksingle

    Well done for MS for having the guts to have a go. Time will tell how successful this transformation will be. Needs at least a year to get a better gauge. Haters are always going to bag MS for the slightest little thing. By the tone of this lazy article MS should just close the doors. No one is as good or as worthy as Apple so why try anything.

    • steve_wildstrom

      If you read what I actually wrote about Microsoft’s Surface strategy, you’ll find I agree with you–a good start but it will take time to see how well Microsoft executes and whether consumers accept it. This piece was just a quick snapshot who what was going on at one of the Microsoft retail locations.

  • Calipenguin

    The Microsoft Stores look like the dozens of cell phone kiosks found around every corner of a typical suburban shopping mall. If I were running the stores I would put up a huge banner that reads “Run Word and Excel on our new tablet!” or “Try your docx here!” and try to attract customers based on the unique capabilities of Surface rather than the aesthetic design of the store. I would also put up familiar Microsoft Office logos on the wooden panels so customers can see the connection and I would advertise an open WiFi access point at each store that distributes Microsoft marketing videos and marketing documents to a passerby’s smartphone.

    • steve_wildstrom

      This is true of many of the popup stores, that were set up for launch and will be gone by the end of the year. The real Microsoft Stores are very attractive, although if I were Steve Ballmer, I would be embarrassed by the extent to which they copied Apple Stores.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/NV25ZPWMBDYFXEYR3AWQ43ZS5E Hein S

      “Run Word and Excel on our new tablet!” Whoopie Doo!

  • lucascott

    For me, the ads just aren’t inspiring. Too much focus on the keyboard. This is supposed to be a tablet so why all this focus on an optional accessory. Show me what it does and how it does it. Then I might be interesting in stopping to take a closer look.