- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Repeating the words “immersive,” “experiential” and “interactive” so often it almost became a mantra, Mika Yamamoto showed off Microsoft Corp.’s brand-new 7,701-square-foot installation, opening Thursday at Tysons Corner Center.

The software giant’s first Washington-area location - just its second retail outlet east of the Mississippi River - is playing catch-up against the high-buzz-factor stores of archrival Apple, with their stripped-down modernist look and trademark Genius Bars.

But Ms. Yamamoto, a six-year Microsoft veteran who is general manager of marketing for the firm’s burgeoning group of retail stores, insists Microsoft is up for the challenge.

Her company defines its stores’ goals differently from the way Apple views its outlets.

“Everything in here is for sale,” Ms. Yamamoto said, walking past rows of computers, tablets and other devices from Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Dell and others. Microsoft makes and sells the XBox 360 gaming system and Kinect controller, and store manager Rick Green, gearing up for his fourth such opening, will sell those systems too.

Don’t forget the Windows phones, which come in a variety of sizes and support several telephone carrier networks, or the tablet computers. The only thing not for sale are the interactive, table-sized displays that point visitors toward area attractions or various Microsoft applications.

The Redmond, Wash.-based computer software titan entered the retail environment just within the past five years, a bit later than Apple, which also has a large and highly popular store at Tysons Corner Center.

But whereas Apple views its stores as key locations from which to sell iMac computers, MacBook and iPad portable devices and the superhot iPhone, Microsoft has different retail goals.

The Microsoft Store, Ms. Yamamoto said, “is a complementary distribution channel,” one that is “only additive” to the Sony Style store about 300 yards away, where that firm’s computers are front and center, or Best Buy’s Tysons Corner outlet a scant two miles down the road.

By offering a place where people can come in and try out various Microsoft items, she said, the company hopes to “highlight the best in Microsoft. We want people to become raving fans of our technology.”

While each store “has a ramp to profitability,” Microsoft, which has signed a 10-year lease on the Tysons location, doesn’t comment on whether individual stores have become profitable yet, Ms. Yamamoto said.

A goal of the 14th Microsoft Store - Microsoft’s first in the Northeast; the only other one east of the Mississippi is in Atlanta - is to provide a location where users can try out products and then either buy them there or shop for them at another retailer. Ms. Yamamoto said the firm would prefer to make sales in the store but wants to “raise all boats” by promoting Windows and related technologies.

She said the stores are an effort to “take it to the last mile” in terms of distributing Microsoft products and educating consumers.

The company has hired 50 employees for the store, which will be open seven days a week. Many will show items and help customers find products - anything for sale in the store can be opened and demonstrated, Ms. Yamamoto said - and others will staff the firm’s Answer Desk, where customers can get some help for free and other assistance for a fee.

Also included is a “community theater,” where local groups will be able to come in and use a video wall and projection system for various events. Ms. Yamamoto suggested that a Girl Scout troop could come in, and while its members earn a technology badge, the girls’ parents could get instruction on Internet security in another part of the store.

The design of the store is open, and there’s no front window display. Instead, Ms. Yamamoto said, the store is the display, including the banks of LCD monitors lining the walls, showing off various products.

Ms. Yamamoto said her greatest surprise was the number of small-business owners coming into the stores, so the new location has an area dedicated to those customers.

Will the new Microsoft Store pose a threat to the nearby Apple retail location? Probably not, says Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif.

“One of the problems in comparing Apple and Microsoft is that Apple has traditionally been able to provide a more consistently good experience as a result of having a closer relationship with customers through their stores,” Mr. Enderle said in an email.

Rather, having both outlets nearby “appears to have been very successful, but they haven’t appeared to hurt Apple sales in stores; instead, they appear to draw more people to the location, and both vendors have benefited.”

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