Microsoft Sweats Merchandising Details for Windows 8

Discussion
Oct 23, 2012

According to the headlines, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is betting the tech giant’s future on Windows 8. Whether that is true or not is open for debate, but a Wall Street Journal report makes clear that Microsoft is playing a more active role than ever before in the retail merchandising of the operating software.

Microsoft is looking to control the messaging of the new product at retail and to do that, is opening more of its own locations, including 34 pop-up shops this week.

In terms of the retail work to sell Windows 8, Microsoft along with Intel, have helped to train hundreds of thousands of retail store associates. Windows 8 is said to be a dramatic departure from previous versions. The company also recently introduced the Surface tablet, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPad.

"In many ways, this is a new era for Microsoft," Mr. Ballmer told USA Today. "We are enabling whole new experiences for work and play."

At Best Buy and others selling Windows PCs, displays include emails, photos and contacts for a fictional woman named Allison Brown to make the experience more personal. Microsoft, according to CMOG Chris Capossela, moved from displaying computers by screen size to groupings by how consumers use the devices such as gaming. Best Buy is grouping devices by price.

"There may be more angst for customers because of the lack of familiarity," Jason Bonfig, Best Buy’s vice president for computing, told the Journal. "Our staff is there to coach them through it."

Do you agree or disagree with the notion that somehow Microsoft has bet the farm on Windows 8? Is the company taking the right steps at retail to make sure Windows 8 — and to a lesser degree, its Surface tablet — achieve success?

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19 Comments on "Microsoft Sweats Merchandising Details for Windows 8"

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Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Microsoft is betting big on Windows 8. And they are using a number of innovative ways to do it. They need to do this because 8 is so different from what consumers are accustomed to using. I salute them for taking a non-conventional approach. All too often in the world of high tech, what worked before does not necessarily work now.

Debbie Hauss
BrainTrust

No, I don’t think Microsoft “bets the farm” on anything. Windows 8 will not make or break the company. I am sure Microsoft is aware that there must be some skepticism on the part of consumers who have been disappointed with other Microsoft releases — Vista as a case in point.

That said, the pop-up store strategy is an interesting one. More traditional retailers are opting to go the route of pop-up stores and stores-within-a-store, so it will be interesting to see the outcome of this effort on the part of Microsoft.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Oh yeah — this is DEFINITELY betting the farm because the UI is so different from prior versions of Windows.

Therefore a user is quite likely to say “Well, as long as I have to learn something new, maybe I should just switch to a Mac.”

So suddenly, the OS will have to be bought on its own merits. Is Windows 8 better than Mac OSX? Will it boot as fast? Shut down as fast? Will there still be a stream of registry problems to fix? Will it be stable?

Frankly, if the company hasn’t solved for the questions I’ve asked above, and if users don’t embrace the UI, Microsoft’s got some real problems.

Does it matter how well in-store employees are trained? Not in the slightest. The thing has to look good and work well. Period.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust
Microsoft is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (as Churchill might have said). They’re betting the farm, but only on the consumer perception of Windows 8, not their industry position. They are still a massive company that shows profits in the billions and they are not going anywhere. The statement “Windows 8 is said to be a dramatic departure from previous versions” is company hype that’s not really true at all. So they’re risking the perception that they are still relevant to consumers by trying to convince them that Windows 8 is a new era for the company and one worth sticking by. In reality, MS is flailing in all directions trying to find itself and find its place in an IT world that has moved on from the model that made them rich. So, to answer the BrainTrust query, I don’t believe that their marketing efforts will make much difference one way or another. Neither would an alternative approach. They are still an ocean liner trying to change course with a captain that isn’t really letting go of the wheel. In many ways, they are like Sears: they are so entrenched that even though they keep… Read more »
Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

No one wants to learn a new system. Even a die-hard PC like me will have trouble continuing to justify my adherence to the geeky PC shores of the digital seas, if the interface requires too much of a learning curve.

Having “people on staff” to help guide people through it is hardly the point. How many people were needed to help the first buyers learn to use the iPod? If the UX isn’t intuitive, even I (a long-time PC) will switch.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

Not sure it is a bet-the-farm issue, but I expect business to resist making the change to W8. This is not like changing from Vista to W7 where people were desperate for a solution. The advantages being touted (one system for all devices) seem more for Microsoft than for their customers.

We will be replacing some PCs soon but will be looking for those we can still buy with W7. The rationale is simple — who wants to support two systems and ensure everyone in the office can operate both when you have one that has been trouble free?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

It’s such a big farm, it would be hard to bet it on any single product or release.

Joe Nassour
Guest
Joe Nassour
4 years 10 months ago

I found it amazing that Microsoft has completely abandoned the first tablet computing interface. It was ahead of its time, and while not as comprehensive as Android and IOS, it did have a comprehensive Pen UI.

It is now just a “me too” without any of the benefits of the decades of development of Windows.

Jeff Weidauer
Guest
Jeff Weidauer
4 years 10 months ago

Far from betting the farm, Microsoft is using the typical consumer to vet out the new platform before businesses adopt it (no Fortune 500 company will be converting for at least a year, I’ll bet).

From there, they can take what they learn and try to upgrade the installed business base to a new version, and keep the revenue flowing. It’s a catch-up move for sure as Apple outflanks them, but their fan base is the IT department in virtually major company. That’s the real goal.

Ed Dunn
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

I believe Microsoft is finally taking the right steps at retail to make sure Windows 8 and Surface achieve success.

Usually, we would just hear of Windows releases in stock at retailers or shipped with new computers. Now Microsoft is more involved in this release.

For Microsoft to take a more active role, it appears they are learning from Apple the importance of being there hands-on instead of just allowing their products to be distributed through OEMs and retailers.

Brian Kelly
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Yes I agree. Microsoft is primarily a B2B/B2C software company. The core business is operating systems and the apps that run on top of the OS.

Brand Microsoft is under siege from Apple and Google, among others. The brand is seen as a laggard, aka uncool. Therefore Windows 8 is a BIG DEAL. Betting the farm? If not the farm, then certainly the brand among consumers.

Microsoft knows a bit about retail, but not so much. Like their stores, the training sounds right. But like their stores, will it be compelling? Will it connect 3rd party retail, Millennial sales folks to brand Microsoft? Will Microsoft make it as cool as Apple or Google? Who will be waiting in line for Windows 8, Millennials or their parents?

Or as we like to say, “Retail ain’t for sissies!”

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
4 years 10 months ago
If they have, they should have their heads examined! Spending money to launch a new product is not unheard of and an introduction of this magnitude should be supported, but the game has changed and it remains to be seen if the Microsoft vision connects with the consumer who has already become accustomed to the Apple and Google systems. I bought a HP/Windows smartphone running CE6.5. I got left high and dry by Microsoft. No upgrade-ability so my $500 investment became a paperweight. I bet on the wrong horse once and got burned; it’s gonna take a lot of convincing to get me to go back. As for desktop systems I use XP and it works just fine after 756 upgrades and fixes. Moving to Windows 8 isn’t a priority for me. Now if Balmer wants to make an upgrade cheap and easy, I might look at 8. But I feel like Microsoft has bamboozled me so much in the past that I am not going to get involved in breaking in a buggy new version that won’t do anything more for me than XP already does. As for success, how is it defined? User satisfaction? Profitability? Groundbreaking performance? I… Read more »
Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

Not quite the entire farm on this one OS. We have seen this before, and MS makes too much money on their Office products and other software SKUs to truly claim that Windows 8 represents their entire focus, budget, and model of their success.

Martin Mehalchin
BrainTrust

I’m sitting on the Microsoft campus as I write this and I do a large amount of client work here, so I’m a biased observer.

Microsoft is, without doubt, betting the farm on three related things: Windows 8, the new User Interface (aka Metro) and cloud centric computing. It’s not just Windows, the new Office coming next year is built around the new UI and the cloud.

I’ve had the new UI on my phone for the last two years and I think it’s revolutionary in the best kind of way and compares really favorably to both Android on mobile and legacy Windows on the PC. Microsoft needed to introduce drastic changes to remain relevant in the consumer marketplace and that’s just what they are doing. They are also executing better on cloud integration than Apple is. I’d bet on a Microsoft “comeback” over the next 18 months.

And when it comes to retail, both in terms of their own stores and 3rd party, I can report that they are taking it very seriously and making significant and smart investments.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

Yes, Microsoft is betting big on Windows 8. But betting the farm? I doubt it. The “farm” is going to be there no matter how “8” takes off and is or is not accepted. They bet big a few years back on Vista(?). That certainly was not a marketing or sales success; but the “farm” remained to fight another day.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Curiously, I was having a discussion with a tech person just yesterday about W8 — which if I understand correctly, is meant to be touchscreen based — and we both agreed it seems to have limited utility for (traditional) business users. A tweet or check-in is one thing, but try to input a 400 page report that way! (And the answer to the question is: no more than it did with Window 7 or Vista or…MS-DOS.)

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
4 years 10 months ago

Well Microsoft doesn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter…the industry is moving away from the personal computer and towards mobile and tablets. Microsoft didn’t push this format, Apple and Google did, but it is faced with an existential threat, nonetheless. Either have a compelling touch-friendly OS or slowly become irrelevant (BlackBerry anyone?). There is clearly a lot riding on the success of Windows 8 and there isn’t a lot Microsoft can do about it.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

This is a strong company with enormous brand value. One product alone will not sink them, at least not for very long. If the new GUI is simple, easy and doesn’t drag my PC speed to a crawl, life will be great. If I have to learn all my PC functions/habits all over again, this could get painful.

They make great products and I have high hopes for this version. I like the retail push for compliant retail execution. Retailers and CPGs should do this more often, with more strict guidelines to ensure execution takes place.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
4 years 10 months ago

This is an enormous investment and departure from previous MS systems. Like most, I applaud their newfound focus on retail execution and consumer adoption strategies. Also like most, I am concerned that MS may lose more people to Apple if the UI isn’t intuitive enough. However, most people are creatures of habit and as long as the UI is reasonably intuitive and as long as their workplace remains on the MS platforms, it is unlikely a large scale migration to Apple or Google will occur. The “farm” is likely to be in good shape for years to come.

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