Best Buy Trying Its In-Store Magic With Microsoft

As a follow-up to its dedicated Samsung stores within its stores, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) on Thursday (June 13) announced that it will also be creating dedicated Might Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) stores within its stores. Each Windows Store will be 1,500 to 2,200 square feet. Across the retail chain, more than 1,200 Best Buy employees will staff the mini-stores and receive training to sell Microsoft products, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The companies said they are teaming up to transform computing sections in 600 Best Buy-owned locations into mini-stores featuring Microsoft computers, phones and Xbox videogame machines. The new Windows Stores, which will start opening this summer, will be visually distinct from the rest of a Best Buy, with wood floors and prominent Microsoft colors and logos, The Journal said.

What is behind these moves is an attempt to try and capture some of the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) magic, a move that even JCPenney—under the command of the exec who created much of that Apple magic, so he would presumably know much of the secret sauce—has failed at.

The fact is that the Apple magic is very specific to Apple and to the litany of things that Apple does differently: All products (and many peripherals) owned by Apple; pricing strictly controlled; most customers "sold" before they walk in the stores (so associates help shoppers choose which Apple product they want and help process orders, but few true sales skills are tested); and an atmosphere driven by a huge marketing budget and millions of connected Apple fans.

That's a far cry from the position that either Best Buy or Microsoft find themselves in today. That said, if the goals are more modest, the real question might simply be: "Will this help even slightly increase product sales?" The benefit to Best Buy is to again become a high-tech destination. If a shopper really wants to explore and buy Microsoft, it's a great—please forgive the now-poisoned retail word—showroom. But that's a huge if.

The benefit to Microsoft is that if people are in Best Buy to look at Samsung, Apple or someone else's products, there's a chance they'll take a peek at the colorfully displayed Microsoft offerings, too. That might happen, but will Microsoft's offerings win those beauty and brawn contests? Remember, please, that Apple products are also on display at Best Buy. If Microsoft is getting pounded by Apple in general, why does it expect to fare well in close comparisons?

Here's the even thornier question: There will be Best Buy associates trained to staff the Microsoft areas, the Samsung areas and the Apple areas. What will they say if asked to help a shopper choose between Apple and Microsoft or Apple and Samsung? What will non-aligned Best Buy associates say to those shoppers?

For Best Buy to regain its own old magic, it needs to be the trusted adviser. It's hard to see how these dedicated stores-within-a-store is going to do anything but undermine that much-sought credibility.

For more:
- See this Wall Street Journal story
- See this Computerworld story
- See the joint Best Buy, Microsoft news release
- See Best Buy's blog post
- See Microsoft's blog post
- See the TV/Web commercial

Related stories:

Samsung's Best Buy Retail Strategy: Get Into Apple's Face
Best Buy Now Demands Noncompete Agreements From All Execs
Best Buy's Facebook Promo The Victim Of Its Own Great Deal
Judge Dismisses Former Napster CEO Lawsuit Against Best Buy