Apple keeps the retail experience simple by removing distractions and drawing your attention to opportunities to try its products.
Apple‘s and Microsoft‘s flagship New York City stores are less than half of a mile away from each other.
Apple’s design instincts and a product strategy that emphasizes items that look similar and are easy to use made for a better retail experience.
But Microsoft’s store had flashier products to try, including virtual-reality headsets.
Apple has been the gold standard for retail since it ignored conventional wisdom and opened its first store in 2001. Since then, other companies have tried to match its first-class customer service and design instincts.
While Microsoft made its fortune on software, including Windows and Office, its expansion into hardware products like the Xbox and Surface tablets and laptops made the idea of a retail store a more realistic possibility. The company opened its first in 2009.
I visited each company’s flagship store on New York City’s Fifth Avenue to see which offered the better retail experience.
Here’s what I saw.
The usual location, beneath its signature glass cube, is being renovated, so the store has been temporarily moved to a building next to the construction area.
While Apple has tweaked the stores since their debut in 2001, they continue to emphasize minimalism, encourage interaction with Apple products, and feature personable employees.
The Fifth Avenue store prevented clutter by displaying a limited inventory and doing away with signs and price stickers. As a result, my focus was immediately directed toward trying the products.
It’s no coincidence Apple put its flagship New York City store near luxury brands like Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, and Louis Vuitton. The store even had an employee dusting off the products.
When Angela Ahrendts became Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores in 2014, one of her priorities was improving the displays for complementary products like phone cases.
The cases caught my attention as soon as I arrived on the second floor. That the brightest cases were above eye level – so they would be visible even if people were standing in front of them – spoke to Apple’s attention to detail.
On both floors, numerous people occupied many of the display tables.
During my time at the store, I saw an Apple employee teaching a class about taking photos with iPhones. He used conversational language, an interactive display, and simple examples to make the lesson accessible for customers of all skill levels.
I had an excellent experience at this store last year while having my laptop fixed, and over the years I’ve been impressed by how personable and attentive Apple employees tend to be – even when the store is packed.
Microsoft’s Fifth Avenue location opened in 2015. It’s just a five-minute walk from the Apple Store.
While the product spacing and focus on interactivity reminded me of the Apple Store, there was a little too much sensory stimulation on the first floor. In addition to three large screens in the middle and on the sides of the room, I heard two songs playing at once. (This was most likely the result of a DJ program customers could demo.)
On the second floor, customers could either seek help at a communal table that resembled Apple’s Genius Bar or sit at individual tables for more personalized service.
While the store was clean and organized, it could have benefitted from placing more inventory in back rooms and making the products stand out more. This display divided my attention among several items.
For example, each of the three floors had a virtual-reality section. I tried two of them and came away excited about the idea of owning a VR headset.
Apple, meanwhile, positions its products as luxury items that are aesthetically pleasing and easy to use.
Apple wants customers to buy into a network of products that look and feel similar. The advantage is that if you own an iPhone, for example, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to use an iPad. There’s less overlap between Microsoft Office and an Xbox; they provide more differentiated experiences and higher learning curves.
Apple’s product strategy and aesthetic brilliance gave its store an edge over Microsoft’s. Each of the items in Apple’s Fifth Avenue store was intuitive, and the minimalist design never made me feel overwhelmed.
Microsoft’s store had a more difficult task in trying to sell a range of products that don’t necessarily look like one another or operate in similar ways. While you’re more likely to come across a product that’s completely different from something you own, you probably don’t want to spend the time necessary to get a grasp on a video-game console or DJ software when you’re in a crowded retail environment.
This article was first published by Mark Matousek on Business Insider US