Revenge Of The Nerds

Danielle Beurteaux

Jersey City, New Jersey, USA --- Woman looking at shoes --- Image by © JGI/Blend Images/CorbisLate week month, Microsoft opened a slick new store right on Fifth Avenue, one of the most famous shopping corridors in the world. Convenient to Gucci, Zegna, and Ferragamo, this new retail location, while certainly not the first (and there are 10 more stores to come by the end of this year), is it’s first flagship store, according to a post on Microsoft’s blog. It’s intended to be a complete tech experience with “experiential space for Microsoft as a company to further engage with our customers and partners in new and innovative ways.”

Which sounds…fun? If behind the corporate speak they mean customers get to play around with new devices, then, yes. Fun!

The brick and mortar store as an interactive, educational experience designed to maximize customer experience is where retail is heading. If stores can’t compete with the ease of online purchasing, they’d better make in-person shopping an event.

A three-story, 22,000 foot store in such prime real estate is an expensive move for any retailer, but Microsoft is taking advantage of a reality about tech shopping today: With many electronics stores shuttered, there aren’t a lot of good alternatives left for hands-on tech shopping, and many new products are best experienced prepurchase.

For example, the second floor is where customers can try out Xbox games—good for Xbox fans, and also a good way to create a lively, energized retail environment.

Tech retailers aren’t the only ones who are upping the ante on the in-store customer experience. Integrating the latest retail technologies to enhance the customer shopping experience is becoming the new standard. Like the Memory Mirror for trying on clothes which shows a 360-degree view and can save and send images. Or, like Microsoft’s neighbor Tommy Hilfiger, VR headsets. As Hilfiger executive Daniel Grieder told the New York Times, they’re providing entertainment: “It’s about surprise by square foot, or newness.”

While many of these technologies are new and in testing mode, this is the “beginning of a retail transformation,” according to Forrester Research. It’s store as theme park.

People like buying at brick and mortar locations because shopping is part entertainment, and also because they like touching stuff (even if they’re not always buying in a store). With electronics, that’s particularly true.

Motorola is also getting in on the retail game, with its first store just opened in Chicago. There will be a “drop zone” where customers can discover for themselves if their phones will survive a fall (onto a variety of surfaces, no less), and a workshop to make customized Moto X phones. Retailer Macy’s recently launched a pilot with Best Buy to put the electronics retailer in 10 Macy’s locations with the store-in-a-store model, an attempt to attract younger consumers to Macy’s stores.

So for as long as retailers can offer creative, exciting shopping experiences to consumers, the brick and mortar model remains.

Learn how one company has leveraged consumer engagement to into a competitive advantage in 4 Ways to Make Customer Experience the Heart of Your Business.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.