And now for another edition of How the Windows Eco-System Fails: Best Buy at its worst

I decided to pay a visit to my local Best Buy to see how things were shaping up for the final run up to Christmas.  Just after walking in the door I am greeted by this:

Center Island at Best Buy

Yes, the large Windows 8 display table in the center of the aisle is not displaying Windows 8 systems, it has been turned into a display stands for Beats Audio products.  Meanwhile, just to the right and perhaps ten feet away the store has the Microsoft Surface on display.  See it here:

Surface at Best Buy

The Surface is just dumped onto an ASUS table next to an ASUS Android tablet.  There is no Surface signage at all other than the price labels you can see in front of the unit.

Now to be fair there is a Windows-themed table over in the Smartphone section of the store that has another Surface on it along with an HP Touchsmart All-In-One and an HTC 8x Windows Phone.  And on the flip side of that table was an ASUS VivoTab RT, a Samsung ATIV Smart PC, and a Windows 8 notebook.  But there is no actual signage for the Surface.  The price tag over there reads $699, with no explanation whatsoever of what you are getting.  Literally all you know is “Microsoft Surface, $699″.  But why is this table over by Smartphones?  Why isn’t it in the Tablet/PC section of the store?  It isn’t as if these devices (other than the 8x) were being offered with data plans.  At least not as far as any signage showed.

Since it seems that Microsoft accelerated plans to get the Surface into stores the kiosks for displaying it probably aren’t expected until January.  But would it really be that hard to take the Beats Audio boxes off the Windows 8 display and put both Surfaces on it?  That would put them on an appropriate table in an appropriate section of the store.  And really, how hard would it be to send someone down to Kinko’s FedEx Office to get a large “Microsoft Surface” sign printed to put up behind the units?

Really Best Buy, this is embarrassing.

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31 Responses to And now for another edition of How the Windows Eco-System Fails: Best Buy at its worst

  1. dave says:

    Not to attract from the valid points you are making, but one thought that struck me is BestBuy probably dont know if the Surface is a tablet (so mobile-ish), or a laptop – so where would they put it?

    I was very hopeful for the Surface. But as good as it is, it’s falling into a space between what the market expects a tablet and a laptop to be, The price may be right, but it’s too high for a casual purchase. A Chromebook, however, is priced at a very attractive level, lower than a laptop, which is what one would expect.

    If the Surface Pro comes out as the same $699 price point, it would clean up. RT should drop in price after Jan15. MSFT may not want to see lower margins, but every single non windows device sold puts the entire franchise is at jeopardy for that customer.

    Gosh, I wish them luck, but they are in a really tough place.

    • halberenson says:

      True, but they know it’s not a Smartphone!

      The main tablet area in Best Buy abuts the notebook area, so they could put it in either. Since Android tablets with keyboard docks are in the tablet area, you would think they’d put the Surface in that area too.

  2. JimmyFal says:

    Hal when you speak of Best Buy you speak very close to my heart. Years ago, when Gateway 2000 opened a store here in Hyannis, MA. I was delighted to rescue folks from the horrors of Best Buy. Gateway even had a referral system where I would make $50 for every computer of theirs that I sold. So I sold more Gateways for that store than they had ever seen. In turn my customers got my help when they didn’t want to drive to the store, and they got a place to go in case they didn’t want my face to face service, and they got 24/7 toll free tech support for the life of the computer, from an English speaking person in South Dakota. Those days are OVER. Now Microsoft has a chance to bring that all back and it is needed now more than ever. More stores, more, more, more.

    • halberenson says:

      I really liked the Gateway store in Redmond. I think it is a Panera now :-)

    • Tom says:

      The Gateway Stores built up brand equity by providing a superior experience to customers. The closing of the Gateway Stores doomed them to participation in a cutthroat commoditized PC market, in which price is the only differentiating point.

      Big-box retail is a competitive, low-margin, volume business. They know how to move product. Whether they do it by confusing or enlightening the customer is not particularly important — to them — though it makes a great deal of difference to the customer.

  3. Dave says:

    When selling at retail, the product vendor needs to supply and pay for the display surround. Microsoft, out of necessity, needed to accelerate distribution of Surface and likely didn’t create a bespoke end cap or display for it. Hopefully in January, there will be custom displays for Surface.

    I would think using the windows 8 display to hold beats headphones is in violation of the agreement Microsoft had with bestbuy for that display!

  4. txabi4 says:

    Embarrasing? This is what I’ve come to expect from most retail stores: complete carelessness. And then they wonder why their business is going away… incredible. Great post, I think I’ll head down to my BB in Chicago tomorrow just to see what debacle they’ve organized with Surfaces…

    • Tom says:

      And this is *exactly* why Apple has its own stores. They know that the big-box stores are *completely* hopeless. So they did an end-run.

      • dave says:

        So the challenge is two-fold:

        1. Having appropriate placement and visibility for products and knowledgeable store staff who can properly speak to these products.
        2. Having an appropriate price / quality / capability ratio in the eyes of the customer so that once seen a product becomes a viable contender within a customer’s selection set within a category.

        I think the challenge MSFT is having is that the Surface RT falls between existing categories (more than a tablet, less than an ultrabook) but without enough differentiation to – in the eyes of many – merit the price point it’s offered at.

        Addition, as we’ve seen in every hardware market, software drives hardware sales.

        A third aspect unique to Windows 8 is a certain reticence about the value and benefit of the new touch interface.

        So, additional distribution, excellent product placement and staff training will be very helpful advance RT devices sales. But these other factors (price compared to available alternatives, interface worries), are outside of Best Buy’s ability to change.

        If MSFT wants the RT platform to succeed, it needs to get critical mass in hardware sales, to attract software apps. Its easy to state in a web comment. It’s much harder to do in real life.

        • halberenson says:

          Over 40 million Windows 8 systems to date certainly sounds like critical mass to me. Software should be flowing.

          • dave says:

            Have there been 40 million WindowsRT devices sold? I don’t think so. Last I read the expectation was for around 500k to 600k units sold in Q4 (worldwide). That is a “modest” start, and the whole impetus behind increased distribution via non-MSFT stores.

            • halberenson says:

              There is nothing really special about Windows RT devices. You just need people to write for the Windows Store, and that’s where the 40 million (and growing obviously) number of systems comes into play. The only people who have to do extra work for Windows RT are those writing in C++, but so far I believe that’s the minority of submissions to the Store.

              • dave says:

                Hmmm… This may be true, but when I’ve surveyed .net programmers on LinkedIn I found they have very little interest in developing for RT. Perhaps not the best sample group to ask, but I was surprised at how little interest there was/is. That may evolve but it wasn’t an encouraging sign.

                • halberenson says:

                  It’s a funny question. If they develop a C#/Windows Runtime app for the Windows Store than it will run on Windows RT as well as Windows 8. It doesn’t really matter if they care about Windows RT itself.

                  Second, I consider most individual developers to be in denial (see http://hal2020.com/2012/02/15/dear-developer-excuse-me-while-i-slap-you-silly/). The real decisions, and the real critical apps, come from companies that make business decisions. And they will find Windows 8 demanding every bit as much attention as they are paying to IOS and Android. If that is indeed true, then Windows RT will benefit every bit as much as Windows 8.

                  Third, .NET developers are weighted heavily towards server development. So that introduces an immediate bias into their thinking.

          • David says:

            Windows 8 != Windows RT and the typical Windows 8 user can ignore the store – getting software the way they always have. Windows RT user has no such escape. This means developers still have to decide between targeting Windows 8 or doing extra work for a minimal Windows RT uplift. And it is clearly hard to port an existing app from Windows 8 to Windows RT as Microsoft proved with its special non-standard port of Office to RT. It really feels like MSFT doesn’t care about 3rd party app developers on RT.

            • halberenson says:

              I think you are mashing up multiple things.

              Microsoft needs to create a sizable potential audience for the Windows Store. Every Windows 8 system sold is an outlet for Windows Store apps. So that 40 million represents places a developer can sell their apps. And soon it will be 400 million.

              Yes on a full Windows 8 (as opposed to Windows RT) system they can also run desktop apps, and that is an argument for those who need those apps to buy Windows 8 rather than a Windows RT system. But that is pretty much an orthogonal point. No one is going to be writing new consumer apps for the desktop, and even Information Worker apps will move to the Windows Store. Both IW apps and most other business apps have been moving away from the Windows Desktop for years in favor of the web. They will either stay on the web or create Windows Store clients, not return to the wild wild west of the desktop. This leaves the desktop as the realm of uber-power users (developers, engineers, trading workstations, etc.) and legacy apps.

              Not only that, desktop apps are horrible to use on a touch first device. You aren’t going to want to touch them any more on a Windows 8 tablet/convertible than you’d want to touch them on a Windows RT tablet/convertible. So if you want to create an app that is touch centric then once again you will go to the Windows Store.

              As for what Microsoft did around Office that was an expedient move. But note that they won’t let third parties do the same thing.

          • Tim says:

            “Windows 8 != Windows RT and the typical Windows 8 user can ignore the store…”

            I don’t believe that is at all correct. Windows 8 users will certainly head to the Windows Store to download apps. My wife, who is quite non-technical, spends most of her time on in the new Windows UI and doesn’t go to the desktop all that often. Apart from some things like Quicken, Photoshop, Office, why would you not want to use the convenience of the Windows Store to get apps that are secure and fill a specific need, even when on your desktop? We have installed a number of apps so far…on the desktop. It is a plus that those same apps are available to install on our Surface.

          • Tim says:

            Regarding little interest by .NET programmers, I don’t know how that will last. .NET folks can put our existing skills (XAML/.NET) to use in a potentially huge market. That simply hasn’t been possible until now without finding a way to distribute your app with a wide reach, in addition to handling lots of other details. I released an app in the Store over a week ago, and it is great to have so much taken care of by Microsoft (there’s a valid reason why they get a 30% cut).

            In addition to the focus on server-side development, I think a lot are simply focusing on their full-time jobs writing the same old boring WinForms apps that most businesses still utilize. (My company still has VB6 apps to support!!)

      • halberenson says:

        That’s a little revisionist. Apple was booted from big-box due to irrelevance. They had to create their own stores as part of their re-invention. Once they’d been reinvigorated then the big-box stores clamored to be allowed to sell Apple products again. Apple used that to gain a lot of influence over how big-box handles their products. So, for example, the Apple section of a Best Buy is very much an Apple experience.

        There is no “Microsoft” section at Best Buy. There is a HP/Sony/Lenovo/Dell/ASUS/etc. section. This explains a lot of why the Microsoft PC “world” is treated so poorly within Best Buy…there is no one who does (or could) own and drive it. Perhaps as the range of Microsoft hardware offerings expands Microsoft can go to Best Buy and work with them to have a mini Microsoft Store experience. But the overall PC section, overall Tablet section, and overall Mobile section of Best Buy is something that no one vendor can control.

        • Tom says:

          By the time the first Apple Store opened in 2001, Apple was well on its way back from the brink. The original iMac was selling like hotcakes, and Apple was cool again.

          The Apple Store was designed from the start to be a different retail experience — with a Genius Bar, with a wide-open layout, with an emphasis on the user experience rather than on numerical specs.

          So while it may be true that Apple had trouble getting retail distribution when it had 2% market share, it is hardly revisionist history to point out that the Apple Stores were designed to leapfrog the typical retail experience. They were.

          Indeed, the Wall Street analysts were intensely skeptical of the whole concept — they thought there were better things for Apple to do than to dabble with hobbies like the Store.

          • halberenson says:

            WHat we are saying is not a disconnect. If Apple had great retail presence in the existing channel then they would have been disincented to go into retail themselves. Once they had to address the retail situation at all it made complete sense for them to change the game.

  5. SurfaceGeek says:

    I paid a visit to my local Best Buy today and had a different experience. I’ve got a photo of it on my Google Community, https://plus.google.com/communities/115295552253743897754
    The display was at the front of the store and very visible. I’ve seen many more bad examples but they got something right in Indianapolis.

    • halberenson says:

      This is the Windows Phone table (note the WP messaging) from the mobile device area of the store that they must have moved up front. In my store it wasn’t visible when you walked in the door, and of course it only had one Windows Phone on it. At least yours shows a couple of Windows Phones on it.

      • SurfaceGeek says:

        Yea, I was impressed as I was expecting the worst. It was at the VERY front of the store and you are correct, the mobile section, but it was very visible.

  6. Tim says:

    Hal – did you say anything to a manager about the issue? Not that you’re obligated to, but I emailed the store’s GM when I saw their horrible WP8 display and awareness. I went back last week and saw at least some improvement (not much, but a little better).

    As someone else indicated above, perhaps Microsoft is the one we should be getting mad at. They may be trying to rush getting the Surface in the stores now, but there is simply no excuse to leave their branding to incompetent retailers and further give reason to people to go to other products.

  7. Barry says:

    Visited my local BB in Ahwatukee (Phoenix area) today and I had to search to find the Surface. Stuck behind the ASUS display, which was dwarfed by the human-sized backlit iPad display, and the killer is that it wasn’t charged up (no power connector), wouldn’t turn on, and the large oval security device/display holder on the back prevented the flip-stand from being opened.

    It may as well have been a large, grey, stone ashtray, for all the good it did to advertise the product. Yes, I understand that Microsoft “rushed” them to retail, but they should have foreseen the need to do this, and prepared signage in advance. There was more signage for Intel Ultrabooks than there was for either Windows 8 or Microsoft!

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  9. Reddy says:

    I am simply mystified at how bad things are in big box stores where MS is trying to sell compared to Apple retail stores. I hope someone from Microsoft marketing (spending $B) watching these “at your face” sightings. Is it really that hard to get things right with these super large chains. Eng. teams bust their behinds to get a great product out. It is really sad to see how bad the last mile gets before customer experiences the product and you wonder why customer feel differently than the folks in Redmond.. hmmmm……

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  11. Brian says:

    At least the one in the picture had a keyboard…

    I went looking for a Surface at a Best Buy over the holidays. It was horribly merchandized. I can’t imagine anyone deciding to buy one based on how it was displayed.

    The only signage was something that said something like “Microsoft MSFT Surface Win” with a price of $699.

    There was a security device bolted to the back of the unit that prevented the “kickstand” from being deployed. The security device probably weighed half as much as the tablet.

    There was no “touch cover” in sight at all. That’s one of the signature features.

    The unit was not password protected, and was functional. It was set up to show the desktop (not the “Start” screen). I played with it a few minutes (leaving in on the Start screen), walked away and came back perhaps two minutes later and it was back on the desktop.

    Someone at Microsoft needs to work with their channel partners to figure out how to display and secure these devices. They also need to train a core cadre of sales folks on how to demo the devices. They demo quite well in the hands of someone who knows how to use one. Perhaps there should be an interuptable demo that shows logging on with a picture password, swiping to get the charms, doing searches across multiple apps, showing how multiple users have their own environments, etc.

    Sitting there with no “touch cover” and a huge security ball screwed to their back like a generic Android tablet isn’t going to generate any sales

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