With First Store, Microsoft Connects With Consumers

Microsoft opened Thursday its first retail store, which is located in a Scottsdale, Ariz., shopping mall. Mika Krammer, lead merchandiser for the Microsoft Retail Group, says the stores are about Microsoft connecting with its consumers, and selling its products such as Windows.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

If you thought the ad war between Microsoft and Apple was getting ugly, just wait. Today, the ground war begins. In Scottsdale, Arizona, Microsoft opened its first retail store to challenge the highly successful Apple stores.

Mika Krammer is lead merchandiser for Microsoft's Retail Group, and she joins us from just outside the store in Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall.

Ms. Krammer, what's for sale?

Ms. MIKA KRAMMER (Lead Merchandiser, Microsoft Retail Group): What's for sale? We've got a lot of things for sale. We've got computers. We've got gaming devices. We've got phones. We've got music devices and services to actually service all those things.

BLOCK: You know, when I think of Apple, I think of, you know, iconic products, the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone. I don't think about that so much with Microsoft. Do you think that's part of the hurdle here?

Ms. KRAMMER: I think this is about Microsoft connecting with its consumers and selling our iconic products like Windows. You look at the people who buy computers, nine out of 10 people, over nine out of 10 people actually buy Windows PCs. That's our one iconic product that we have, in addition to Xboxes and Zunes and Windows phones. So I think we have a whole host of products that we're looking forward to selling to consumers and actually connecting with consumers as we sell them.

BLOCK: And would you say, as you walk into the Microsoft store, does it look kind of like an Apple store?

Ms. KRAMMER: I think it looks like a uniquely Microsoft store. You've got vibrant colors. You've got colors all over the PCs. You've got multiple colors on the associates that are working in the store. You've got a vibrant wall. We've got a video wall that actually surrounds the entire store, and it's a moving wall that has - you see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, you see - and you see space, and you see the planets move. You see fish. So I think that it's a unique Microsoft environment.

BLOCK: And what can you get, do you think, from a Microsoft store if you're a consumer that you couldn't get if you walked into another retailer, like Best Buy, selling your products?

Ms. KRAMMER: I think you can - I mean, we have similar products. I think what you can get at a Microsoft store is a set of experiences. We have an assisted sales environment. You can go online and you can book a free personal shopper to actually help you with your purchase experience.

It's sort of daunting to look at the range of PCs that you can buy out there and select what's right for you. We've got people that will actually lead you through and go through a personal buying experience and help figure out what you need and connect you with the right products for you. You know, we have the ability to offer a range of choice of products and to personalize and to make them your own.

BLOCK: Ms. Krammer, do you worry that Microsoft is kind of late to this party, that Apple's been there long before?

Ms. KRAMMER: We think that this is a great time for us, actually. Our consumer strategy overall at Microsoft in terms of products, in terms of services, we think this is an amazing time for us to come out with a retail store as an extension of our consumer strategy, establishing that customer connection and building that last-mile relationship that we're looking to do with our customers.

BLOCK: There has been, you probably know, some snarkiness online and elsewhere. I was reading a column from earlier this year in PC World talking about what will be going on at these new stores, and the writer said: Store hours are undetermined. At any given time, the store mysteriously shuts down instantaneously for no apparent reason. No word yet on what happens to customers inside. This is the image problem, I guess, with Microsoft.

Ms. KRAMMER: Yeah, we've got an answers desk in the back of the store. And, you know, regardless of where people bought our technology, they can come in and get help with whatever they buy. I think, you know, I mean, so far we're up and running, and the store has an amazing, exciting energy right now. We've got lines actually running outside through the mall, outside the mall, and I think that's an indication of how excited our consumers are about shopping at a Microsoft store.

BLOCK: Well, Mika Krammer, thanks for telling us about it.

Ms. KRAMMER: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for your time, Melissa.

BLOCK: And enjoy the rest of the day. What are the hours?

Ms. KRAMMER: The hours are 10 to 9 for regular weekdays.

BLOCK: Mika Krammer is the lead merchandiser from Microsoft's Retail Group. Today, they opened their first store in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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