Many of the stores on New York City’s famed Fifth Avenue are more about marketing than they are about making sales. Microsoft’s flagship store, which opens tomorrow at 677 Fifth Avenue, is no exception. “We have a mandate towards exposure,” says David McAughan, COO for Microsoft retail and online stores. “We are trying to be a showcase for the brand.”
Right now, as a brand, Microsoft is all about making no-nonsense workhorse tools. That’s in the company’s DNA, for sure, but as Microsoft works to distinguish itself from Apple, this design philosophy seems to apply more and more to the things it produces—including its stores.
The five-floor, 22,270-square-foot storefront will be the largest of 113 retail locations Microsoft has opened to date. Tour the store with a Microsoft representative and the phrase “hands on” gets repeated a lot, because the space was designed to encourage you touch and try. None of the devices are tethered to the tables, so you can pick up laptops or phones to get a better feel for them. Upstairs, there’s a station where you can play Xbox games. Downstairs, the store’s designers placed stools beside the knolled tables to encourage visitors to plop down and get to work. Wood tables and wood floors give the store some warmth. The overall experience is like being in a slick new public library.
“For us it’s about sitting down and educating you,” McAughan says. “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. We want to get deep into that conversation of what it’s capable of, why this would work in whatever use you need.”
Apple wrote the script for designing retail spaces, especially ones slinging tech products, and there are signs of Apple’s influence throughout the store (and Microsoft’s other stores, as well): the street-facing facade is five stories’ worth of giant glass panes, making the store look like a huge transparent box. The knolling of the tables, too, is a longstanding feature of Apple’s retail havens.
At the same time, in ways unrelated to the physical environment, Microsoft’s stores are practicing a kind of transparency rarely seen elsewhere. In the center of the Fifth Avenue store, there’s a HoloLens headset and the Microsoft fitness band in a case, so consumers can take a look at what’s coming down the pike. The help desk is device-agnostic, and fields queries from anyone who needs help setting up Windows. This is what Microsoft is about: helping you get hands on, and get to work. The new flagship store is a massive billboard for Microsoft to tell consumers exactly that—as McAughan says, it’s “a physical manifestation of the brand.”