Talking tech since 2003

If you can’t beat’em, join’em, right? And if you can’t do that, then maybe the best thing to do is simply join up. That’s the strategy that Microsoft and Best Buy seem to be following, as it was announced today that the electronics giant would soon offer up Windows Stores inside 500 retail locations throughout the United States, with another 100 Best Buy and Future Shop stores in Canada as well.

Windows-StoreThe Windows Stores—a different, if similar-seeming entity than the Microsoft Stores that dot the United States—will sell, well, Windows products. That includes computers, tablets, Windows OS-powered phones, and, of course, the Xbox brand of gaming consoles. A press release announcing the partnership says that “the alliance will add more than 1,200 Best Buy Microsoft-trained sales associates to create an engaging customer experience at scale.”

Now, while that doesn’t make it totally clear whether the Windows Stores will be staffed by Microsoft employees or if they’ll simply be Best Buy employees wearing a different color shirt who went to two-hour seminars, it’s easy to see that the new sections will get a big push for attention and visibility. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting to visit them and see what kinds of Windows-powered gadgets they’ve got. And considering how well Windows 8 (and its various iterations) play well with touch-enabled devices, there’s bound to be some interesting new products to try out.

The move is undoubtedly an attempt on both companies’ part to beat Apple at its own game. Microsoft Stores have been around since 2009, it only boasts 36 locations worldwide—and 35 of them are in the United States. Compare that to Apple’s 407 stores scattered all across the globe, and it’s easy to see why Microsoft might want to try and expand its retail presence. Instead of having to find new store locations to lease, Microsoft can simply enjoy its new retail home in 600 stores that are already built.

As for Best Buy’s motivations, I’d still point the finger back at Apple and its monomaniac retail locations. Considering that Apple Stores actively compete with Best Buy locations—they both offer top of the line electronics, but one is a lot more pleasant to visit—it doesn’t surprise me that Best Buy would look to find an ally to try something new. Yes, there are Apple-specific portions of Best Buy stores already, but the Windows Store announcement sounds like it’ll be getting the five-star treatment.

And frankly, since the rise of online shopping has led to a decline of in-store foot traffic, having a special destination within Best Buy stores for people curious about demoing different gadgets will hopefully offer a solution to the franchise’s dwindling profits over the last few years. In fact, this move isn’t too far from a partnership Best Buy formed with yet  another of Apple’s rivals: last month, the retailer rolled out Samsung Experience Shops in select locations throughout the country. Clearly that model has been working well for them so far, either from increased sales, or simply from collecting cash from Samsung for taking up its floor-space.

Are branded, store-within-a-store sections in stores the future of the retail landscape? If Best Buy is any indication, we may soon learn that the answer is yes.

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