At midday today Microsoft officially opened it’s first retail store outside of North America in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall.
The countdown began with an expected “Windows 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…” and the curtain dropped on the two-level brightly lit store in the centre of Sydney’s main shopping strip.
Hundreds had lined up to be first in store and gain access to an exclusive Jessie J concert and a swathe of discounts available on the day.
The opening felt reminiscent of those performed regularly at store openings attended by many a seasoned technology aficionado. Fans crowded lines giddy with anticipation, company staff manning booths and handing out bottled water in the Sydney sun, and of course many casual onlookers snapping away photos of the crowd of eager shoppers. But this wasn’t an Apple Store opening, this was Microsoft’s bold new flagship store staking its ground thousands of kilometres away from all its brethren in the US. This is the new Microsoft.
As the countdown came to a end the two-storey tall curtain dropped to reveal a beautifully designed store that gives off a distinct feeling of “similar, but different”. The layout is a familiar archipelago of wooden tables adorned with devices and information panels, giving each customer the opportunity to spend some time with a device, ask questions, and hopefully walk out with a lighter wallet.
The walls are lined with interactive displays, some showcasing the latest Xbox One games, some letting you get hands-on with Surface technology and the creative possibilities should you feel like water-colour painting without all the mess.
The ground floor presents a mix of Surface devices, Lumia phones, and some Xbox gear on the back wall. While making your way up to the top floor (along some semi-transparent glass familiar stairs) takes you to the “Theatre” – a room dedicated to learning and events, as well more of an Xbox focus.
There’s plenty of staff scattered about in primary coloured shirts (they call them “Skittles”) who are ready and excited to ask you what you’re after and if you’ve tried on a Microsoft Band yet.
While there were plenty of devices about and many punters eager to get their hands on the latest and greatest, two things really stood out for me.
Firstly, there were a few products missing from the line up in the store – the Surface Pri 4 i7, and the Lumia 950. Perhaps this was an oversight for the launch, as none of the staff were able to tell me when these products would be in, but it was a slight shame to have a flagship store absent some flagship products.
Secondly, this isn’t the Microsoft I remember. It’s no longer the stodgy old brand that feels more comfortable in a suit than in a pair of jeans. I was convinced most of those waiting in line were either Microsoft staff, or actors playing the part of fanboys – but I was dead wrong. The hundreds of adoring soon-to-buyers were a raft of genuine Microsoft fans. Some there for Xbox, most for Surface, a handful for Lumia – but they were all there out of a true love for the brand and a desire to experience the store.
This is the new Microsoft – friendly, open, warm, inviting, and genuinely wanting to make good products for consumers, whether or not they always get there.