Microsoft Distribution

Robbie Bach of Microsoft on their plans for retail stores, as quoted by Benjamin J. Romano:

I don’t think – I saw some of the commentary that this was designed to be the same as Apple or whatever. You should think about it, I think, quite differently.

Apple’s approach was about distribution. People forget that when they entered their stores [in 2001], this was quite a while ago, they didn’t have distribution for Macintoshes, so they created their own distribution.

We have plenty of distribution. These stores for us are about building our connection to customers, about building our brand presence and about reaching out and understanding what works and what improves the selling experience.

So Apple you would think of as a volume distribution play. You should think of ours as much more of a brand and customer relationship investment more than anything else.

There’s already plenty of commentary on what this statement means and how Microsoft should run its new stores, but I just can’t get past the complete misunderstanding (or rewriting) of history here.

Before Apple Stores, you could buy Macs in plenty of places, including Sears and CompUSA (both of which were quite successful and popular at the time). Many argued that Apple was being far too stingy in who was allowed to sell Macs. My recollection is that it took longer for Apple to get shelf space in “non-computer” stores to sell iPods, but you’d be crazy to think that Apple opened up retail stores because they couldn’t find distribution channels for iPods.

Apple’s problem was that in stores selling Wintel PCs, the sales staff (who were likely Wintel users) knew nothing about Macs and were thus completely unhelpful to customers, or actively steered them towards Windows. Apple tried fighting this with special training programs and dedicated staff, but this just led to isolated “Mac ghettos”: having a few square feet in the dim back corner of a shop doesn’t do much for a brand’s image.

Apple opened shops not to get distribution, but in order to connect to customers directly, deliver the “well-designed; just works” brand message, and build customer relationships all the way from sales to support to repairs to upgrades.

Now Microsoft is whining that current retail channels aren’t delivering the message they want and that their brand image is suffering, so they’re going to open their own stores.

It’s one thing to play follow-the-leader with Apple—sometimes that’s the right play, and market leaders can often afford it. But these ridiculous denials are just embarrassing.