Another little “shopping” trip to Best Buy and the Microsoft Store

With release of the Surface Pro imminent, and word on the street that both the Microsoft Store and Best Buy already had units on display, I made another stop at both of my local outlets.  I know I sound like a broken record, but while the Microsoft Store experience was excellent the Best Buy experience was almost criminally bad.

The Microsoft Store had a Surface Pro right out front (though oddly it was equipped with a Touch Cover rather than Type Cover) and then several more on the first two tables in the center of the store.  They put the Surface Pro on the corners of the tables with Surface RT in the center positions so you could compare the two.  The store was already out of reservation cards with sales people reporting heavy interest in the Surface Pro.  If you desperately want one you just have to show up Saturday and hope they don’t run out of stock.  I do get the impression they are expecting good supplies, but demand still could leave you waiting.

I started playing with all the other tablets and convertibles in the store, and they now have quite the selection.  While playing with the HP Envy x2 a store employee young enough to be my granddaughter swung by and asked if I’d detached the tablet yet.  I pulled it out of the dock and she proceeded to talk about how much she likes that particular tablet design, the weight, feel of materials, etc.  It is a 10.6″ tablet, like the Surface, but with more traditional curved edges.  As I wrote about after I first saw a video of this device last year it seems like a great offering if what you want is primarily a clamshell notebook with the ability to detach a very nice tablet from it.

My “granddaughter” and I then discussed numerous other devices they had at the store.   And she left me sort of embarrassed by pointing out the obvious.  The magnetic connector for the cover on the Surface is symmetric.  So if you have a Type cover, and find it unnerving to hold your Surface as a tablet with your fingers on the keys behind it, you can quickly pull the cover off and click it in place in the reverse direction.  Now your fingers rest on the fabric-like back instead of the keys themselves.  Duh.

My trip to Best Buy was its usual “why bother” experience.  At least they’ve taken the ASUS signage off the little table with the Surface, and put a Surface Pro next to it.  Unfortunately they don’t have a Type or Touch Cover attached to it.  They do have a nice (Microsoft-supplied, I think) poster that helps you decide if you should get a Surface or Surface Pro.

The rest of their tablet and convertible selection hasn’t changed much (meaning mostly MIA).  The ASUS VivoTab RT was gone from the display in the mobile area, though the signage remained.  Actually they really confused matters by having a Windows 8 x86 Ultrabook labeled as a Windows RT device.  Apparently the staff just slid the price card for the Ultrabook into the description they had sitting there for the VivoTab.  Sloppy.

Indeed I realized that 80% of the problem at Best Buy is just being sloppy and lacking attention to detail.  That means they could make a huge improvement with no increase in cost.  I’d even come in and prove that for them at no charge, except that I want 20% of any improvement in monthly sales that results.  If they go chain-wide with it I’ll settle for 5% 🙂

I mean really Best Buy, things like having the right signs on the right devices.  Improving signage overall.  Creating a demo Microsoft Account so that devices are actually usable (e.g., you can’t look at Mail on a Windows 8 system because it wants a Microsoft Account; something addressed at the Microsoft Store).  Keeping Windows and the installed apps updated (again a Microsoft Account problem).  Installing more cool apps from the store so users can get a better idea of the device experience (something the Apple Store is great at).  Having bored employees man demo stations for featured devices when there aren’t customers in need of assistance.  All pretty small stuff actually.

Here is a simple truth.  If what you want is a cheap notebook and don’t care much about the buying experience or the latest technology then go to Best Buy.  If you want to see and hopefully buy the latest and greatest, with a good shopping experience as well, go to a Microsoft Store.  Especially now, with the Microsoft Store having a full array of tablets and convertibles and Best Buy having almost nothing.  Sadly, most readers of this will not have a Microsoft Store close enough to check out at lunch hour (and they might even need to get on an airplane to visit one).  Microsoft needs to fix this, or fix its retail partners.


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8 Responses to Another little “shopping” trip to Best Buy and the Microsoft Store

  1. Joe Wood says:

    So true and so obvious, makes you really wonder why nothing has been done about it. Given the lackluster consumer sales of PCs for a while now.

    Makes me wonder what Apple’s arrangement is with Best Buy. Is their area leased out with very specific set-up instructions – kind of like a franchise?

    • dafowler says:

      My understanding is Apple has a specific set up; in larger Best Buys they have a mini Apple Store (or at they did when I visited one) with a branded salesperson. Smaller displays are set up for customers to play with. At WalMart and Target, they have closed off displays for iPads that run an Ad on loop

  2. bornasafai says:

    When are the rest of us going to be able to order the Surface Pro online? It seems that short of going into one of the stores on Saturday, there’s no way of getting one on launch day?

  3. Hughes Hilton says:

    I went to my local Best Buy last night around 7 pm. The table with the Surface RT and Pro was prominently displayed in front of all the other aisles of laptops. The RT had a touch cover attached and the Pro had a type cover attached. Both seemed well displayed and were fully operational.

    However, I didn’t see a single person (other than me) use either Surface the whole time I was there. On the other hand, the aisle with Ultrabooks 20 feet away was crowded enough that I hardly got any time with most of the models. Several customers were on the aisle being helped by a couple employees trying to make buying decisions. Almost all the Ultrabooks I looked at had touch screens. They ranged from Core i3 models with 500GB “spinning rust” drives ($500 – $700) up to core i7 256 GB SSD models ($950 – $1100).

    Now the store as a whole was very dead, so the preponderance of customers shopping for Ultrabooks was interesting. I have no idea whether salespeople had anything to do with pushing them that direction rather than to a Surface, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in the Surface despite its attractive, front-and-center display.

    I know Best Buy gets a really bad rap from a lot of people, so I thought I’d share my experience which overall was fairly positive. Still, the customer interest in Surface, at least while I was there, didn’t seem very high.

    • halberenson says:

      I’ve always wondered how much of the problem is the chain and how much is individual store (or district or regional) management. I’ve certainly wandered into Best Buy locations far better than my local one. Good to hear your experience was much better than mine.

      • Jean-Marc Bronoel says:

        In my San Diego area, the Best Buy stores are like your local one. And it’s really disconcerting that they don’t realize yet they could improve with very little or even no cost. Maybe they gave up already brick & mortar ?
        Would be like a software company giving up its on premise business while the new SaaS offering is just starting

  4. Paul says:

    Yeah, the situation at my local Best Buys is tragic. Every one has a perfectly merchandised Apple section where everything is on and working. Then there’s the PC section which looks like a ghetto by comparison. Half the systems/monitors aren’t even powered on. Very few W8-based tablets. And the staff, when you can find them, universally know nothing about anything, including their own stock. I think you’re right that they could increase same store sales fairly dramatically with some modest changes. But they appear to have given up. They promote the Apple stuff because it gets people into the stores and by and large sells itself at this point. But apparently the Windows stuff is just too much work for them.

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