Apple vs. Microsoft: War at the store

Mar 02, 2012

JP Mangalindan has been a staff writer at Fortune since 2010, writing frequently about technology.

FORTUNE -- Strolling around the Microsoft Store in Santa Clara, Calif., there's no getting around the fact that you've seen this all before. Like, across the street -- where a brightly lit, glass-paneled Apple Store stands. Microsoft (msft) is effectively emulating Apple's (aapl) wildly successful retail experience, from the wordless, store logo out front to the branded, reusable shopping bags your purchases are stuffed in. How does Microsoft, which opened its first location in 2009, stack up against the entrenched technology retail juggernaut? I spent equal time shlepping around both stores to compare the customer experience. Here's what I found.

Microsoft
Stores: 14 with three more coming soon
First store: Scottsdale, Ariz. on Oct. 22 2009
Executive-in-charge: David Porter, Corporate Vice President, Retail Stores at Microsoft
Customers at the Santa Clara store: 14
Employees on the floor: 11
Employees at the entrance: 1
Employee greetings: 4
Best greeting: "Looking for something in particular? Unlike other stores out there, we won't harass you. We know there's a balance between being asked for help too much and not at all."
Employees who said they don't receive commission: 2
Employees who said I wouldn’t want the laptop I was looking at: 1 ("You don't want that one. It's too heavy.")
Male employees writhing to “Toxic,” by Britney Spears, via Microsoft Kinect: 1
Corporate discounts: None
Sales promotions: 3, including a $200 store gift card for purchasing a PC priced $699 or higher and a free $60 game with the purchase of an Xbox 360
One employee’s reaction when told I was also looking at Macs: “We’re priced more competitively. What about this Ultrabook from ASUS? It's slim, light, and sexy.”

Apple
Stores: 300-plus
First store: Tysons Corner, Virginia on May 19, 2001
Executive-in-charge: Formerly Ron Johnson; currently, Senior Vice President John Browett
Customers at the Santa Clara store: 40
Employees on the floor: 35
Employees at the entrance: 3
Employee greetings: 4
Best greeting: "Hey, I really love that jacket... So, what are you in the market for?"
Employees who said they don't receive commission: 0
Employees who said I wouldn’t want the laptop I was looking at: 0
Male employees writhing to “Toxic,” by Britney Spears, via Microsoft Kinect: 0
Corporate discounts: Yes, selective.
Sales promotions: None. ("Yeah, Apple doesn't really do that.")
One employee’s reaction when told I was also looking at PC’s: “Bro, they may be cheaper, but Apple’s all about quality. Our customer service can’t be beat. [fist bump]”


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