Places To Do: Microsoft Store Opens At Yorkdale Mall – Toronto
It’s 9:00 a.m. on a cold Thursday morning. A gaggle of writers, photographers, and editors shuffle down a long corridor towards a tiny side door: the entrance to a brand new Microsoft store, the likes of which has never before been seen in Canada. As we pass through this tiny door, we are led to a large room filled with colour and bursting with energy as technicians and sales clerks alike zip around the open space, making last minute touches to the store before its big debut. There are view-screens lining the walls, desks throughout the room displaying every kind of Microsoft product, and a very large glass sign with the Microsoft logo etched into it, right in the center of the room.
We start at the back of the store in the center, gathered around on comfy brown stools and tabletops that make up what Microsoft is calling the Community Theatre. This section is dedicated to the community (that means you, Toronto). The Community Development Specialist, Emily Chow, co-ordinates with the public to schedule birthday parties, meetings, and even workshops – free of charge. There is a giant presentation screen with a Windows 8 interface ready for use, or the option to hook in your own equipment to utilize the screen conveniently from your Microsoft phones, laptops, or touch pads.
From there, we are led around by the Regional Manager, Peter Harrington, and the Store Manager, Allison Evans, to help us familiarize ourselves with the store’s layout and answer any questions that we may have. At the back of the store and to the right is an entire corner dedicated to Xbox 360 Games and demos. If there is a new release that you aren’t sure you’ll like, you can play it in-store before you buy it! This little game hub includes controllers and headphones, as well as a Kinect setup and wall-to-wall screens, so you can see exactly how amazing (or not) the new game will be, firsthand. The staff at Microsoft are trained on (and encouraged to play) Xbox so if you are still unsure of how something works on the Kinect, they’d be happy to demonstrate or answer any questions you may have.
As you follow the right-hand side towards the front of the store, you’ll see several large, curved, wooden desks laid out individually; it’s as if you were at home, sipping coffee, ready to get to work. It’s quite an impressive idea, as this setup actually helps you to visualize Microsoft’s products in your own home. According to Harrington, Microsoft is trying to have an “out of box” experience for their customers; the mindset is that, while it’s nice to hear about the newest laptops, phones, or tablets, you get a much richer experience when you can hold them in your hand, explore their content, and see if the product is right for you with your own eyes, before you buy. There are also several employees ready and willing to answer your questions or show you how to find the things that are important to you as a user, within the applications. The store even has an area near the front where you can hook up your own phone to a Windows phone to compare and contrast the two on a large view-screen.
As you move throughout the front of the room, you’ll see more desks set up in two rows of three. Here, Microsoft has displayed the new Microsoft Surface, as well as touch-laptops from Acer and Asus. All of these are charged and ready to be played with, so you can get a feel for what you’ll be putting on your Christmas list. On the left-hand side wall, moving towards the back of the store, are software displays, small-business needs, and Microsoft peripherals. Any large businesses can still order through Microsoft, though sadly, the products that are typical to larger businesses will not be on display in the new store.
The main attraction is directly in the middle of the store: The Answer Desk. Technicians are there at all times and can assist you by appointment or by drop-in. Any product under the Microsoft banner, new or old, is supported by the staff at The Answer Desk. Keep in mind, Microsoft will only fix products that are still under warranty but can assist with questions for all of their products. In fact, any product that contains Microsoft hardware or software is supported here, even if the computer is a Dell or an Apple. Have an Apple product that is running a Microsoft Office Suite and you are having trouble figuring it out or even getting it to work at all? No sweat: the on-site technicians are fully qualified to handle Apple products that support their software as well and will be glad to lend a hand. It’s part of the intense training that all employees at the Microsoft storefronts go through; preparing their workers (depending on the position) can vary from 3 to 6 months in length. Employees even receive training from many of the people who actually developed the software, so you can be assured that they are qualified!
We were all a little curious as to why Microsoft decided to take the leap into a physical storefront. It was quite clear to us while we were there that the Apple store was being moved two doors down from the Microsoft store, and halfway across the mall from its original placement. So was this just to ruffle the feathers of their competitors? Or perhaps neither party had any intention of competing, and a billboard for Apple’s new store just happened to pop up right before the launch of the Microsoft store. To be fair, all of this is speculation, and in no way based on public statements or documented proof.
In truth, every company in the technology industry has slight competition against one another, but tend to be intertwined as well. Be it hardware or software, in some form or another, many of these companies work together, even if they do compete with each other. Harrington suggests that as customers are adapting to a “digital lifestyle”, the companies themselves need to adapt to fit their customers’ needs. For Microsoft, this meant creating a physical interface for people to gather and interact with their products and their representatives. Since 2007, Microsoft has opened thirty stores across The United States and now one in Canada. They are attempting to fill a need that they previously did not realize they had. “It is our time to tell our story,” Harrington explains, and what better place to start than the very center of the Canadian population?
Reading up on many of the Microsoft store releases in the United States, as well as those leading up to the launch in Canada, I became awfully aware that there was a claim that Microsoft “copied” Apple’s design and layout, and even used the same architect to create the stores… and it’s true: Microsoft did in fact hire Gensler, a world-renowned architectural company that did have a hand in designing an Apple store, years ago. I could only find one design specifically for Apple’s European Flagship Store that Gensler worked on. What I found even more interesting is the focus paid on Apple having the same connection to the architect when many other companies like KFC, Dickies, Christian Dior, and even Toys R Us (to name a few) have used the services of Gensler to design their storefronts. Nobody seems to mention this, and it’s a shocking bit of information that only led me to one ‘scandalous’ conclusion: KFC is trying to be Apple.
What makes this store so diverse is that Microsoft’s products have been engrained in our society for so long and with such a variety that it was only natural to make the progression to an entire center dedicated to them. If you are still sceptical, I suggest checking out the store for yourself and deciding how useful it is for you. You just might find you’ll want to stay a while!
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