As of this morning, Microsoft is officially on the avenue - 677 Fifth Avenue at 53rd St., to be precise - in a big way: a five-floor, 22,270-square-foot flagship operation with a glass facade that's just a five-minute stroll from the popular Apple cube a few block uptown.
Time’s Alex Fitzpatrick, who was on a press preview tour of the store last week, writes that it’s “a little like going to an Apple Store in an alternate dimension” — one where brands other than Microsoft’s (and Apple’s, of course) are a natural part of the habitat.
“Yes, when you walk in, the first thing you see are the latest Microsoft-made tablets and laptops. But waiting just beyond is hardware that competes with those machines, like laptops from Dell and HP. Meanwhile, the ‘Answer Desk,’ Microsoft’s answer to the Genius Bar, will help you not only with Microsoft gear but with any other tech, too.”
Like many of its neighbors on Fifth Ave., the 113th store in Microsoft’s growing retail footprint is more about marketing than making sales, writes Margaret Rhodes for Wired. “We have a mandate towards exposure,” David McAughan, COO for Microsoft retail and online stores tells her. “We are trying to be a showcase for the brand.”
Not that the products themselves are behind glass. In fact, there’s a real touchy-feely atmosphere, with no cables attached.
“Microsoft says it wants to demo the devices completely untethered so people can test them out as if they were at home. And yes, there's going to be plenty of security on hand. There are going to be 160 associates working at the store, who speak a total of 19 languages,” reports Devindra Hardawar for Engadget.
“It’s very similar to test driving a car. It’s one of the reasons they’re so keen to get you into a car; once you do, you’ll fall in love with it,” McAughan tells Wired’s Rhodes. “We want to get deep into that conversation of what it’s capable of, why this would work in whatever use you need.”
The first Microsoft store with more than one level — it’s “almost like a miniature mall,” writes Eli Blumenthal for USA Today — has no cash registers or checkout stations, relying on mobile point of sales people to handle transactions on the spot. (Hmmm, where have we seen that before?)
“The highlight of the shop is an eye-catching 30-foot promotional display made up of 36 screens packed tightly together. That's flanked by an array of displays that run along each side of the store and show off Microsoft products,” writes CNET’s Roger Cheng. “According to the store's senior manager, Bill Madden, they could also be used to stream local community events such as a parade in Times Square.” Outside, the facade features a “culture wall” that will show digital works by local artists, Cheng reports.
Back inside, “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,” Blumenthal reports. “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.”
But Microsoft is also going after Girls And Boys Who Play Videogames and pursue other non-revenue-producing pastimes.
“Long known for its office software products, Microsoft has been expanding its consumer lineup that includes such items as its Xbox videogames and consoles, tablets, its new Surface Book laptop and its new fitness device Microsoft Band,’ writes Keiko Morris for the Wall Street Journal.
“It is a concerted push to become a consumer brand as opposed to a brand consumers know,” A.T. Kearney partner Greg Portell tells Morris.
A high-end one at that.
The location of the totally redesigned space formerly occupied by Fendi — amidst the likes of Tiffany, Gucci, Armani, Valentino and Rolex — “shows the upmarket aspirations Microsoft has for its products,” writes Nick Wingfield for the New York Times. “Its Surface devices are expensive machines made with high-end materials. In addition, fashion and technology are merging, as with the Microsoft Band fitness bracelet that the company is selling in the store.”
Maybe Lululemon Athletica, undergoing revival under a new CEO, and Microsoft, also undergoing revival under a new CEO, should hold a joint Kumbaya revival yoga class with loaner Microsoft Bands in that fifth-floor event space.