Microsoft opens flagship store in NYC

The seemingly endless Apple versus Microsoft war will forever be etched in technology history. One area that Microsoft only recently decided to try and break into is the retail market. Since its first store opened in 2001, the Apple Store has permanently changed the way consumers purchase computers and mobile devices. In 2010, Microsoft finally got around to opening a store of its own with two locations in Arizona and California.

While it was a modest success in its own right, the Microsoft Store has grown at a significantly slower rate than Apple, with 68 stores overall compared to the 266 stores that Apple has in the United States alone.

Their international expansion plans, up until now, were practically non-existent, with their first store outside of North America planned to open by the end of this year. One area that they surprisingly never opened in was New York City.

The closest thing to a Microsoft Store in the city to date was a temporary location that opened in Times Square to promote the initial launch of the Surface tablet line in 2012, with no encore for the Xbox One’s launch the following year.

Three years later, the company has finally decided to open up their flagship store in New York City. Location wise, it replaced a Fendi clothing store on a plot of prime real estate on Fifth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Street.

In a clever bit of placement, the new store is located a short distance from Apple’s flagship store on Central Park East, Sony’s ground level store in their soon-to-be former headquarters and Nintendo’s own retail store in Rockefeller Center.

The opening ceremony of the store was done in New York fashion. Aside from the main ribbon cutting, the celebration continued with a Microsoft sponsored concert from Pitbull at the nearby Rockefeller Center Plaza and the midnight launch of the newest installment in the popular Halo series on Xbox, Halo 5.

The stores on Fifth Avenue tend to pride themselves on which ones stick out more to passers by, rather than overall sales. Microsoft’s new store is no exception to the tradition. As Microsoft COO of retail and online sales David McAughan explains, “We have a mandate towards exposure. We are trying to be a showcase for the brand.”

At 22,270 square feet of retail space across five floors, Microsoft’s New York flagship will be the largest store they have opened up to date, almost as big as Apple’s largest store in Grand Central Terminal, and certainly bigger than Apple’s Fifth Avenue flagship.

The first two floors are primarily dedicated to the Microsoft Surface lines of laptop/tablet hybrid products and the company’s popular line of Xbox home video game consoles. The third floor is a co-sponsored exhibit with Dell about the potential business applications of Microsoft’s new products. The last two floors are reserved for store employees and special events like the “Girls Who Code” seminars.

While they are trying to usurp Apple in the retail market, it is patently obvious that they borrow a sizeable amount of inspiration from them in both design and experience. Aesthetically, the exterior facade is mostly made of giant glass panes, similar to the entry of Apple’s Fifth Avenue and Broadway stores. Even the knolling on the tables is taken from Apple’s stores.

But one aspect that Microsoft is aiming to achieve over Apple is a greater amount of interactivity between their products and customers. Compared to the tethered and chained lock that Apple has to their products in the stores, Microsoft encourages to get “up close and personal” with their line of laptops and phones. The tables and stools were also selected in a way that lets visitors get right to doing whatever they needed to do on the laptops, in stark contrast to the standing room only approach of Apple’s many stores. McAughan has compared the overall experience of the new store to something akin to a public library.

One unique feature that Microsoft added was a small section of the store that showed what customers could expect in the future from the company. Specifically, there was a HoloLens headset, Microsoft’s apparent answer to Google Glass, and a Microsoft branded fitness headset, their attempt at getting into the fitness technology market. An addition like this definitely gives it a slight edge over Apple’s stores, which sticks to the company’s tradition of secrecy until the respective keynote event.

Though time will tell how long this store will survive in the competitive Fifth Avenue retail scene, shoppers now have another choice for getting the newest laptops, games and mobile devices.