About a year ago I reported about seeing the Microsoft store for the first time. You can read about it here. The stores are meant to be Microsoft’s interpretation of the Apple store experience. The stores also give Microsoft a opportunity to better manage its image in a hyper competitive environment, by providing a specific place to showcase its software and products from its partners.
Well now Microsoft has just under 10 retail stores up, the latest being opened in Houston and Atlanta. Stores are now near Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, LA, and Seattle. Rumors persist about a New York store (2012 Update; Two stores will open in the New York area, but not near the flagship store yet – see this post for details) ; Personally I am still amazed at how Costco came to Harlem (and not amazed by the problems of building a megastore in real estate challenged New York – see Crain’s article here ) , so looking for a Microsoft store would be amazing. (Apple, not to be outdone, has opened a store in Grand Central Station, its fourth in Manhattan). New York moves quickly, so time will tell.
Some posts have criticized Microsoft for not having the same number of stores as Apple. But is that really necessary? It’s worth a case study, but so far Microsoft needs to provide distinguishing experiences that galvanizes its loyal customers first. That focus can help create the right buzz, essential against daily posts on Apple and Google.
Many small businesses run into the similar choice of how to run online and offline. How fast show we be growing? What do we offer online? A few following points put in context being online vs. offline.
1. There’s been some criticism that Microsoft is expanding too slowly. In comparison Apple did not place stores everywhere, either. I spent nearly three years in Alabama, and no official Apple retail store existed in the state ( Apple certified retailers in Alabama existed, however). You had to drive to either Atlanta or Nashville to see one. Apple eventually came to Huntsville and Birmingham. But my point is that the need to scale is relative to a business model, and a slow role out is not a bad one if the stores are being managed well to satisfy customers.
2. Despite the fact that people do research companies online, what is most essential is what connects to the business model. Amazon proved that its model of retailing online was scalable. Apple uses its stores to create an experience for new and old buyers alike.
In short there are different ways to retail. It’s up to you to determine what channel fits your business model. A business model is not a list of products or services. A business model is planned by the way the service or product is delivered to the customer.
3. Do not think of offline and online as strictly being separate activities. What you can do is figure out what syncs well between the experience online versus in store, and execute these syncs with social media where applicable. Facebook can be a source of updates. Combined with Meet Up, Facebook can be used to gather people for special events, be it a fund raiser for a non-profit or a panel on an industry subject at your location. Twitter can be used to share updates around a particular hashtag — for hashtag inspirations, see the post on using Twitter at a trade show at Allbusiness.com
There’s debate about having a Facebook page to retail a product or service – in short, whether people will purchase on Facebook rather than a site. IMHO I don’t believe that it will replace a website, and you should not eliminate a website entirely. Think of Facebook as a channel on which you need to understand if you customer is willing to purchase. Do they spend so much time there that a website is not? What would drive people from Facebook — as popular as it is, there are still things that can happen that can reduce a business’ chance of success. And what about search engine optimization advantages from having your own website? Gone if there’s no website.
5. Notice that when I stated the locations, I said Microsoft is near Chicago, Phoenix, LA, and Seattle. Even a cash-flush company like Microsoft selected locations that had visibility but did not jump into lavished locations. For a small business, there’s a great takeaway: No one said you have to be downtown for the first store. If you choose to be downtown, just make sure the location advantage is clear and can be quickly applied to the bottom line.