Microsoft has announced that 83 of its stores, currently shut for CV-19, will not reopen. The four flagships in New York, London, Sydney and on the company’s own Redmond campus, will be “reimagined” as non-transactional “experience centers”.
The retail staff will be reassigned; Microsoft will continue to service consumers via digital storefronts, offering sales, training and 1:1 video support.
The world’s perception of the physical retail’s importance for Microsoft business is modest. By shutting down the stores, Microsoft wrote off ca. $450m ($0.05/share). In the two weeks following the announcement, the company’s shares rose by almost 9% (by $17.34).
Rather than the question of cost, however, Microsoft retail — to date — has been a story of a missed opportunity to unlock tremendous gains. Scott Galloway, summarises it with characteristic poetry:
“The iPhone is the most profitable product in history, not because the product is tangibly superior (the Galaxy is better on many metrics), but because of where it’s sold. Buying a phone at an Apple store is sex with Tom Brady. Buying an Android at a Best Buy, AT&T, or Verizon store is having sex with a guy named Roy on a bad carpet under a neon light tube.”
In the “experience” format, gaming will probably gain ground — it was, by far, the most exciting and popular area of the London flagship before the refurbishment.
- Could Microsoft evolve from the role of a benevolent rich kid, letting friends play with his expensive toys, to become an active partner — invested in gamers’ success?
- Could Microsoft introduce gaming tutors, available in person whenever the store is open, and reachable remotely?
- Could the store help gamers turn a proclivity into a sport or a business — teach them how to stream, promote and market their streams, make them interesting to follow?
Meaningful and exciting experiences could be created around Minecraft, Hololens, Surface and Skype. Since the redesign must have been underway for months, we don’t have long to wait.
Next level idea
Fashionable experience hubs aside, the gangster move would be for Microsoft to play the long game and do what only a handful of companies could. Online tutorials are cheaper, but nothing beats the simplicity, inclusivity, potency and emotional value of a consistently good physical experience.
The idea: Microsoft could facilitate the great human unlock by making their products and personal success coaches available to anyone, who needs them, in Microsoft Libraries.
- Global reputation of a visionary force for good
- Marketing value of individual stories
- Unlock new, loyal consumer groups — individuals & entrepreneurs
- Grow revenue & market capitalisation
Microsoft Libraries would be a network of simple, functional and easily found spaces, the public could visit to use Microsoft software for free.
Microsoft Libraries would be hosted by success coaches, tasked to help the guests achieve their goals — find information (Bing, Wikipedia), create reports, presentations and balance sheets (MS Office) to succeed in education, career and starting a business.
Unlike classes offered in “experience flagships”, Microsoft Libraries would not run to a predetermined class schedule or require prior registration.
Unlike Google Digital Garage, Microsoft Libraries would not be an online offering, reliant on guests to understand remote instructions, have access to hardware, software, an internet connection and a quiet environment to fulfil their needs.
Microsoft could partner with Wikipedia and promote the free source of common knowledge on a variety of subjects. Perhaps, such partnership would also allow Wikipedia, a hugely under-appreciated resource, to clean up some of its less accomplished articles and become a more reputable source.
Apple unlocked tremendous wealth and became a generational idol by building temples that promoted the virtues of a beautiful and considerate design and inspired endless businesses and creatives to emulate the aesthetic without investing into (or, sometimes, understanding) the ideology behind it. The Apple store concept was controversial, but offered consumers a radically differentiated vision — stunning, premium environments for consumer electronics, where competent, presentable and friendly assistants allowed anyone to play with the greatest product on Earth — any time, no questions asked.
Perhaps, the times have changed and the hero of 2020 is not someone instantly recognisable as the most beautiful, coolest, most creative guy around. Perhaps the hero of 2020 is someone, who is a reliable, helpful and good person; someone, who asks how she can help rather than pushing what he has to say.
Microsoft could become that hero and unlock a stratum of people, who may otherwise not reach their full potential. The company’s market cap, currently standing at just over $1.5T, requires constant fuel to grow in line with the market expectations. Many of those, trained in Microsoft Libraries, would become loyal, paying customers when their careers and businesses take off. Microsoft could, to quote Benjamin Franklin, “do well by doing good.”