Microsoft Hindered By Retailer Failures

The company would be wise to take a page from Apple to overcome its reputation for poor customer service delivered by its point-of-sale partners.
I can't say that I've been impressed by any brick-and-mortar PC purchase experience over the years. The sales people who assist you on a purchase at Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, or any of the other retail outlets aren't usually anywhere near experts on the computers they sell. That I could almost overlook, but not the often high-pressure tactics and deception used to pack on extended warranties and outrageously priced accessories. A six-foot USB cable for $30 is highway robbery.

As far as Best Buy goes, I've had my share of poor-to-mediocre experiences with them too many times. Even when the staff want to help, they often don't have enough knowledge about the products to provide meaningful assistance. I had an episode like that a couple of years ago when buying an uninterruptible power supply. One Yelp reviewer of a Chicago Best Buy location summed it up nicely: "You need to do your research ahead of time for the products you want or know exactly what you want when purchasing from the store because you won't get much help from the employees. Also you would have to need that item that day because there is no reason to pay some of the high prices they have for their products."

Still, even in this era of online commerce, many people are willing to pay a premium for the immediacy of a brick-and-mortar purchase. If my experiences are any indication, kids growing up in the age of the Apple Store will simply think that is the place to buy electronics whenever possible--and they'll be right. It's a powerful advantage for Apple's own products, and for the manufacturers of the accessories and software the stores carry.

That's why I've become convinced that Microsoft needs to take control over more of the process by expanding its own store initiative. By showcasing a quality set of hardware without the trial-version junk that many PC makers insist on bundling, Microsoft can provide both a good product and a good purchase experience.

Of course, there is much more to the product experience than just sales, service, and support. Historically, Windows has taken hits for being more susceptible to viruses and spyware. However, the signs are that Apple is catching up on malware thanks to its rising market share. Apple's support response to these new threats hasn't been very Apple-like, and it will be very interesting to see how the company addresses a problem that Windows users have lived with for more than a decade.

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