I went to Microsoft Store for Surface on a launch day. Compared to Apple Store, t’was a retail experience from hell
Last week, I did something I thought would never do. Being an Apple fan and all, I wouldn’t have waited in line for a Microsoft product launch if it wasn’t for helping a few friends.
This Microsoft Store is located right across an Apple Store in a mall. In the past, I have waited in line for many Apple product launches, which have all been a wonderful experience. What exactly makes Apple product launches a wonderful experience? The opportunity to hangout with the Apple community throughout the night, receiving attention by the press, and the aura around it. A Microsoft product launch? Not so much.
It was a retail experience from hell.
Waiting In Line
I wasn’t worried about a long line, but I was surprised by the number of people there. I arrived at 9 AM (an hour before launch) and I was only number 13. If this were an Apple product launch, it probably would have been hundreds long easily. In fact, the Apple Store across had over a hundred people waiting for the iPhone 5. Can you believe it? People are still lining up every morning for a month old product. Turns out, they receive shipments Monday – Saturday and are sold out within minutes in the morning. It was also disappointing to see no members of the press at the Surface launch. At this exact location, if it was related to Apple, there would be news vans and members of the press interviewing people while there.
While waiting in line, friendly Microsoft employees welcomed us, gave out water, fruit bars, and candy. By 9:30 AM, the line was 50 to 75 people long and employees started to hand out a yellow band for people that were eligible for Xbox Music. I don’t understand why a card couldn’t have been given instead because the yellow band was pretty difficult to take off after. This was all acceptable until ten minutes before “launch.” Microsoft staff tried to get the people waiting all excited by cheering, but that didn’t end so well. They were the only ones excited while the people waiting were totally clueless on how to react! You could hear the crickets chirping and the sad trombone playing. During an Apple product launch, the excitement just forms on its own and Apple staff actually interact with customers by giving out high fives. Also, throughout the time, members of the press folks waiting in line, which add even more value to the experience. I became extremely bored while waiting in line.
After that was over, Microsoft employees made customers go through a tedious process of making us fill out an “order form”. The staff would give an explanation of each item on the form and help us fill it out. The order form’s design even had a very Apple-like feeling to it.
But really now? An order form for something we already knew we were going to purchase? This process just slowed down the entire line. Not to mention it was an insane amount of waste of paper too. The launch was supposedly to be at 10 AM, but people didn’t get to go inside the store until 10 mins after. How could a company be late at launching its own product? It was truly absurd. At every Apple product launch I have been too, employees do a countdown 10 seconds before and are always on time. Just as I was about to enter the store, I was asked by a Microsoft store employee if this purchase was for personal or business use and if I wanted to do an in store setup. I said personal and didn’t choose to do an in store setup. In my mind, I felt like I was making a purchase for Windows. After being asked these useless questions, the guy went to go look for somebody that could help me out. You would think the person that asked me these questions would be the one assisting me with my purchase. But even before I made it into the store, Microsoft somehow had managed to give me a headache. I wasn’t inside the store until 11 AM (one hour after launch)! The staff was not getting the line to move, but instead we were just told to wait. It was also hilarious to see that on the other side of the store, Microsoft had created a line for people just wanting to get into the store. There was actually no explanation behind this. Why couldn’t people that wanted to enter just walk in? It was a massive fail on Microsoft’s part, but more importantly it caused a painful experience for me. Even before I was inside, I just wanted get out of there.
During an Apple product launch, customers are allowed to go into the store right on time and there is no nonsense of having to fill out any form or answer any questions beforehand. It was an absolute ludicrous experience waiting to get into the Microsoft Store.
Inside the Microsoft store
After waiting for two hours, I finally made it inside! There was no excitement or emotions expressed while I was waiting in line among customers or employees. Instead, it was a huge sigh of relief. While I entered the store, employees were just standing around like it was just another day of work for them. No applauds, no cheering, nothing.
The store itself looks very similar to an Apple Store and Microsoft even copied Apple’s uniform. Usually, Microsoft staff wear multi-colored t-shirts, but this time around, they were wearing blue t-shirts. I wonder where they got that idea from? There were clearly more employees in the store than customers. It was made very clear who the underdog in today’s world is.
A Microsoft Store sales guy greeted me and took me to a table where I was once again explained the Surface options. Instead of asking what I wanted, I was given an actual demo. Oh, come on! The employee giving the demo seemed clueless on how to work the device. It was made obvious that the employees weren’t given enough time to learn about the Surface beforehand. Even though Apple doesn’t educate store employees about new products hours before launch, they at least have a clue on what they are talking about. I wanted to start playing with the device, but the sales pitch just wouldn’t stop.
At one point, the employee was desperately trying to sell the keyboard. It was pitched as if nobody has a cover like this. Also, during the product demo, the Surface’s WiFi stopped working, but that issue was blamed on the store’s WiFi network. I can’t remember the last time an Apple product failed in store. During the explanation process, a couple of employees popped out of nowhere and yelled “We have workshops in the back!”. They were desperately trying to get customers to use the workshops option at the store. At an Apple Store, workshops aren’t shove down your throat, but instead are an option. In my mind, I was frustrated. First of all, I already knew what I wanted to purchase. Second of all, why was I being interrupted during an explanation? It was like an ad that wouldn’t go away.
Heck, even if you walk into a Microsoft Store today, a sales rep will come up to you while using a Surface and give a sales pitch. What the heck for!? Just let me play with the product. At an Apple Store, I wouldn’t be given a demo, but instead an opportunity to play around with the product right off the bat. No sales pitch, no pressure of purchasing something.
Then I was asked to show the order form I filled out while waiting in line. You would think the Surface and keyboard would have been in my hands by now, but no! The employee had to go check if the items were in stock. I waited there for a full five minutes doing nothing. Finally, it was time to checkout. The point of sale system that was used was extremely slow in processing payments. After the payment went through, I was asked how I wanted my receipt. I chose the option to get it emailed, but little did I know a surprise was headed my way. A registration process was required where I had to give my name, address, etc. This process took another five minutes. It seemed like Microsoft employees did not care about a person’s time at all. After a full two hours of being at the Microsoft Store, the launch day experience of purchasing a Surface was complete. By the time I was out, there was no line outside and no store employees congratulated me on my new purchase. Ironically, the Apple Store across was still house full by the time I got out.
If this was an Apple product launch, I would have been in and out of the Apple Store within five minutes. When I was in line for the iPhone 5, Apple store employees were able to go through a 1,000+ people line in 20 mins. They are insanely fast at helping customers out during a product launch. Oh, and while you walk out of the store, employees are cheering and congratulating you on your new purchase making it feel special.
The Microsoft retail experience sucks. Period. There is no difference in making a purchase on launch than there is on any other day. I know this for a fact because I have purchased an Xbox 360 from here before and have gone through something similar. It was made very clear that the underdog has a lot of catching up to do in the retail space. After waiting for many product launches at an Apple Store, I came to realize that a launch day experience is completely unique and cannot be experienced on any other day. You see, Apple’s retail experience is so great because they took their time to perfect an experience and not rushed something