Photo: Matt Rosoff Business Insider
Last week, Microsoft opened its 14th store in the Westfield Valley Fair mall in Santa Clara, California.It’s Microsoft’s first store in Silicon Valley, a mere six miles from Apple headquarters. It’s also directly across the hall from an Apple Store.
This presented a unique opportunity to see how the two stores compared. On Sunday my family visited both of them back to back, and made a purchase in each one.
To keep it honest, we didn’t tell them who we were or what we were doing.
Here’s what we found out….
ROUND ONE: FRIENDLINESS. At the Microsoft Store, we were greeted at the door by Carlos. He happily let us take his photo.
Nobody offered to help. To be fair, it was a lot more crowded than the Microsoft Store. And later, when we finally made a purchase, the staff was friendly enough.
But this security guard gave us a hard time and asked me to stop taking pictures. I switched to my iPhone and kept shooting.
Apple: give this security guard a raise! He did his job. And made us feel like criminals in the process, which is pretty funny considering how much money we've dropped at Apple Stores over the last five years.
ROUND ONE -- FRIENDLINESS -- TO MICROSOFT. The Microsoft Store was a million times friendlier. 1-0, Microsoft.
ROUND TWO: FUN. Shopping has to be fun, otherwise you might as well stay home and shop online. Microsoft's Kinect setup was a huge hit with all the kids.
ROUND TWO -- FUN -- TO MICROSOFT. The Microsoft Store had way more fun distractions than the Apple Store. 2-0, Microsoft.
Microsoft has an equivalent of the Genius Bar. They will try to help you out with almost any PC, even old ones that you didn't buy there.
A Microsoft staffer who'd worked in the San Diego store said they saw quite a few Mac customers who needed help with Boot Camp or Office. They're happy to help them.
But it's hard to knock the original Genius Bar. It's crowded, and they can't always fix the problem. But we've never had anything but a stellar experience there.
Apple also has a Personal Projects table where they'll just help you figure out how to do or make something. Notice that this lady's using a Windows PC.
ROUND THREE -- HELPFULNESS -- TIE. We're giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt here, but both stores offered assistance, even to the enemy. 3-1, Microsoft.
But when you walk over, this is it. Four models. Pretty pathetic. I guess we'll have to wait until Nokia's Windows Phones start to hit the U.S. next year.
And don't even bother if you're looking for a music player. We didn't see a Zune anywhere in the store, although it may have been really, really well hidden.
The Apple Store doesn't have the selection of computers, but the ones it does have are gorgeous. The MacBook Air looks great in the store.
Everything matches. Burnished aluminium, black, white. The computers in the Microsoft Store looked like a mishmash in comparison.
They've also got the hottest phone in the world, although this store was sold out most models of the 4S. (They told us to come back early tomorrow. They get new shipments every morning.)
And in case you needed to be reminded how popular the iPhone is, here's a sign a few feet down the hall advertising an app that shows you how to get around the mall.
ROUND FOUR -- PRODUCTS -- TO APPLE. Not even close. Great computers, the world's most popular phone, and the only tablet that matters. The score is now 3-2, Microsoft.
ROUND FIVE: EASE OF PURCHASE. To buy our copy of Office 2010 at the Microsoft Store, we had to walk up to a checkstand and wait for the cashier to use this pretty traditional point-of-sale system. It took about a minute.
The Apple Store doesn't have a single place to buy things. That usually works great — almost any employee can help you. Today, though, it was so crowded that we had to wait in a kind of random mob to get helped.
The line cleared almost immediately. It took a few seconds to scan us in and check us out. Amazingly efficient.
ROUND FIVE -- EASE OF PURCHASE -- TO APPLE. They've had 10 years to perfect the checkout process, and it shows. THE SCORE IS TIED, 3-3.
ROUND SIX: CONVENIENCE. We drove about an hour to get to this Microsoft Store. But only because we had another event nearby in San Jose anyway.
ROUND SIX -- CONVENIENCE -- TO APPLE: 300+ stores versus 14. Microsoft is planning on opening 75 in the next three years, but it still won't be close.
There's a reason the Apple Store is so crowded. You can't beat great products, sold with great efficiency.
But we came away impressed with Microsoft's efforts. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the experience is a lot of fun. If Microsoft can just get a few more killer products on the shelves, and open a bunch more stores, it has a chance.
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