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Coming soon to a mall near you: the Microsoft Retail Store.
Yes, that's right: Redmond, Washington's favorite son wants a closer, snugglier relationship with you, the consumer.
Given Microsoft's relative lack of retail experience, and the fact that it plans to locate near its nemesis (well, one of its nemeses), the Apple Store, we wanted to help. So we came up with a list of ideas to help the big MS make its stores a hit.
Warning: some of these are serious, others not so much. Which is which? You be the judge.
- Hold star-powered store opening events.
Announce that Microsoft will celebrate all store openings with live skits featuring goofy bosom buddies Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.
- Hire the very best people to run the stores.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression, so make sure your people have the track record to pull this off.
- Offer diagnostic and repair services.
If Geniuses can fix or replace any Apple-branded electronics still under warranty, then Microsoft's retail staff can do the same for stuff that sports stickers claiming things like "Windows Vista Capable."
- Build alliances with computer manufacturers to staff the Guru Bars.
And why not? The big names have plenty riding on the launch of Windows 7. Besides, they've built up plenty of customer service expertise in places like Texas, California and Hyderabad. (Note: certain fine computer builders, like Bob & Doug's Corner Computer Emporium, might not get a seat at the Bar.)
- Train all staff to maintain the highest level of professionalism.
For instance, make sure associates smile politely when a customer walks up, grins, says "Hello, I'm a Mac" and elbows them in the ribs.
- Display Windows-based hardware for people to try.
Show how Windows runs on computers, smartphones and whatever else Microsoft wants to convince people to buy.
- Promote fan clubs to celebrate previous Microsoft consumer successes.
Start with enthusiasts for Microsoft Surface, Windows Tablet Edition, Passport, Vista and Sidekick.
- Run workshops for business users.
Exploit current holes in software available for the Mac. For instance, bring in experts to explain how to set up popular accounting packages and, for lawyers, legal practice management systems.
- Run workshops for creative users.
Run workshops showing how Windows computer users can start their artsy projects (photo books, websites, music videos) right out of the box. Have the workshops led by cute little girls who end each seminar by saying "I'm a PC and I'm four and a half."
- Run safe computing workshops.
Teach users the basics, like not opening all attachments, not clicking links in spam email and so forth.
- Run basic Windows repair workshops.
Teach computer users how to: remove pre-loaded trial software; replace faulty .dlls; make changes in the Windows registry; manually uninstall software when Windows botches the job; effectively scan online forums for answers to other problems; and, when all else fails, reinstall Windows and all other software from the ground up.
- Create an X-Box gaming area.
Preview the latest games, hold in-store tournaments and otherwise build excitement around Microsoft's gaming platform. Contain this area in a soundproof room away from workshops, ideally in the mall display window so that everyone can see how rockin' Microsoft is.
- Guerilla marketing (offense).
Every day, send people to nearby Apple Stores to pose as shoppers, whine about how expensive Macs are, then proclaim loudly, "Maybe we should go PC."
- Guerilla marketing (defense).
Prepare a list of canned answers to anticipated questions from Apple operatives. Of particular importance, be ready to explain how Microsoft's operating system is not a copy of Apple's.
- Offer kids play area.
Create a low "play table" where kids can sit down and show their parents how easily they can figure out a Windows computer.
- Store closing.
To tell shoppers the store is closing for the day in a way they're sure to understand, have the giant video wall display the Windows Blue Screen of Death.
What do you want from Microsoft Retail Stores? Please tell us in the comments below.