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Microsoft Store could be a bore

More staff than customers spotted at the Microsoft Store in San Francisco.

My colleague Ray Shaw seems quite excited by the prospect of a Microsoft Store opening in Sydney. But after the initial novelty wears off, it could turn out to be a big yawn.

I'm in San Francisco ahead of Oracle Open World, and during a break from work I walked round the Westfield shopping centre, where there is a Microsoft Store. Interestingly, the Sydney store is going to be in Westfield's Pitt Street mall.

I know from previous visits to the US that Microsoft Stores aren't the busiest of shops, but from the adjacent escalator at around 3pm this afternoon I could see nine staff members and six customers, including the guy playing on the Xbox. There were no obvious signs of purchases being made.

So Ray Shaw's apparent excitement could be misplaced.

Wednesday afternoon probably isn't peak shopping time, so I crossed Market Street (with a slight diversion thanks to the ongoing construction work for the Central Subway) to the Apple Store (pictured) to see how things were going there.

As usual, things were humming. In the ground floor 'hands on' area there were something like 100 people including a dozen or so staff. Upstairs, the Genius Bar seemed fully staffed and attended, and there were perhaps 50 people in the sales area with about one staff member for every four customers. And there were signs of purchases being made, with shoppers clutching boxes and staff bringing products from (presumably) the stock room.

Admittedly it wasn't as busy as the New York Apple Store near Central Park which was full to overflowing when I visited in July but - with the possible exception of the queues of Nike Women's Marathon entrants at Macy's last weekend, who I presume were queuing either for swag or for special discounts - I haven't seen a busier store of any kind on this trip to the US.

No wonder Apple sets the records for retail sales per square foot.

In some ways, I'd like to be proven wrong - I'd rather talk and write about success than failure. But if the San Francisco experience is any guide, Microsoft's Sydney store might struggle to make an ongoing impact.

Postscript: In the light of readers' comments, I paid a repeat visit to both stores on Saturday afternoon. The Microsoft Store was much the same as it was on Wednesday, but the Apple Store was significantly quieter. If anyone's tempted to count heads, keep in mind that the photo only shows about a quarter of the Apple Store's floor area (the construction work mentioned above meant I couldn't stand far enough away to capture the full width of the ground floor).

SF Windows Store

SF Apple Store

To cover other points raised, I conducted the exercise when I did because I had the opportunity to visit a Microsoft Store and an Apple Store that are within a couple of hundred metres of each other.

Maybe a Microsoft Store is "an opportunity to educate and expose customers to Microsoft's great offerings and services", but you could say the same about an Apple Store.

The reason why Apple has so many identical units on display is because they get so many people trying them out at the same time (see my above remarks about the Manhattan Apple Store).

Every time I've visited an Apple Store, I've seen people buying stuff (look at the man walking out of the store), but I don't recall ever seeing a purchase in a Microsoft Store.

As for the Telstra Store comparison, yes, the SF Microsoft Store seems to attract about the same number of customers at a time as the Telstra Store I'm most familiar with, which is to say not many.

Disclosure: The writer travelled to the US as a guest of NetApp and Oracle

Images: Apple Store San Francisco by pingping [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr (top) and Stephen Withers


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.


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