Best Buy is starting to resemble a department store.
Shoppers will soon find the Richfield-based electronics giant’s latest branded department, a Windows store by Microsoft. It joins Apple and Samsung Experience in Best Buy’s list of store-within-a-store brands.
The Microsoft departments, which will roll out starting this month in about half of Best Buy’s big-box stores, will include Windows-based tablets along with PCs, Windows phones, Microsoft Office and Xbox products that were previously sold in multiple departments. At nearly 2,000 square feet, the mini-stores will be about four times larger than the Samsung spots.
The Windows stores will offer selection, service, technology and competitive prices, said Jason Bonfig, vice president of computing for Best Buy. “This is something that’s totally new and fully in line with our determination to transform Best Buy,” he said in a statement.
Each store will feature an innovation space with the latest Windows devices and accessories, including a stand-alone area for Microsoft Surface, the company’s new series of tablets.
The move will give Best Buy stores more clarity and identification, said Dave Brennan, marketing professor and co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence at the University of St. Thomas. “Customers won’t feel overwhelmed by choices and will get better-trained staff to help them,” he said.
In fact, Best Buy plans to add 1,200 sales associates trained specifically for Microsoft products.
Analysts see the Windows stores-within-a-store and the expanded staff as an attempt to compete more directly with Apple. “Next to the Apple Genius Bar, Best Buy has the best help in the business,” said Burt Flickinger, managing partner with the Strategic Research Group consulting firm. “And they have a lot more stores.”
Branding partnerships can offer several advantages, including helping to neutralize a competitor. “There are only two platforms, Apple and Microsoft, and Apple already has its own department,” said Brennan. “It’s a good defensive move.”
The stores will showcase how various Microsoft products work together, a selling strategy that has been effective for devices running Apple Inc.’s iOS operating system and Google Inc.’s Android software.
“It’s the iOS experience, it’s the Android experience and we want a shopping environment that really shows what we think is the Windows experience,” Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, said.
Microsoft has been trying to generate more enthusiasm for its products by opening its own retail outlets, a move that has proved successful for Apple.
Even before Microsoft’s latest Windows 8 operating system went on sale, Microsoft had been struggling with the inability of outside retailers to effectively display its products and ensure that staff understood the technology.
Windows 8 made it even more important for Microsoft to improve communication with consumers. Sales staff must articulate the difference between the main version of Windows 8 and Windows RT, a variation for tablets with ARM Holdings Plc-based chips, Tami Reller, Windows chief financial officer, said an interview last month. Then, they also have to explain Microsoft’s first foray into hardware, the Surface.
Experts don’t expect this to be the last branded departments at Best Buy. Electronics may be a bit crowded, but the appliance department remains untouched so far. Brennan sees a GE Profile or Wolff or Subzero department as Best Buy’s next frontier.
Best Buy isn’t confirming which of the 600 locations in the United States and Canada will get the Windows mini-stores. The Rochester store was one of the first to roll out. The rest are expected to be completed by September.