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Exclusive: What’s In Store For Microsoft

Last fall Microsoft opened its first-ever flagship store, a five-story monument to technology located on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Five months after the opening-day hoopla, TWICE revisited the still-bustling showroom for an update on the company’s retail strategy — and a less frenzied walkthrough — with Kelly Soligon, worldwide marketing general manager for Microsoft retail and online stores.

Here’s what she had to say.

TWICE: How many stores does Microsoft operate?
We have over 100 stores in the U.S. and Canada and one store in Australia. It opened in Sydney in October, around the same time as this one, and is the only other multi-story store.

We’re also online in 190 countries. We offer Office and Windows products in newer markets and also sell first- and third-party hardware in established markets.

TWICE: What is your role?
I’m responsible for the customer experience. Our job is to delight and surprise our customers. I spend about half my time traveling to store locations and I also spend a lot of time with our online store managers.

TWICE: What’s your background?
I have a software background, and have been at Microsoft for 15 years in corporate marketing. I report to David Porter, our corporate vice president of retail stores. He came to us from DreamWorks, and spent 25 years at Wal-Mart.

TWICE: Why Microsoft stores?
We determined that we wanted to have a direct connection with customers and that this would be the best representation of the Microsoft brand and eco-system. So we opened the first store in 2009 and continued opening new locations, one store at a time, in high-end A- and B-market shopping malls. Today, 80 percent of Americans live within 20 miles of one.

We also have 30 specialty stores that have smaller, curated selections but are complimented by the “endless aisle” online assortment.

The stores are our face to the customer and bring our eco-system to life. It’s very hands on — the displays are all live and we encourage game play — and we provide free services like virus removal, PC tune ups, software installation, workshops, and recycling programs.

They also provide a space for community events, and allow us to present new technologies that aren’t out yet, like the Vive VR demo we’re doing upstairs, and the HoloLens that we make available to developers on demo. And we’re pre-ordering the Oculus Rift. … We’re a playground for virtual reality.

TWICE: Why did it take so long to come to New York?
Well, we also have a kiosk at the Time Warner Center by Columbus Circle, but we wanted this space for the flagship. It was the right location but it was occupied by Fendi. We were patient.

TWICE: So are you a retailer or a showcase?
The stores provide a showcase for our products but we are a retailer. We have a merchandising team, we buy product from Microsoft, and we negotiate with our third-party partners.

TWICE: Get any good deals from Microsoft?
We’re prioritized with Microsoft, but we order our firstparty products like everyone else.

TWICE: Explain the dedicated Dell floor upstairs.
We have a special partnership with Dell, and show an extended selection of their consumer PCs, gaming models, and server products for small business.

TWICE: Do your PC partners help subsidize the stores?
No. We have strong partnerships with our OEMs and work together to deliver the best device options and value for our customers.

TWICE: Who designs the fixturing and displays?
They’re developed in-house. We have a retail laboratory at our headquarters in Redmond [Wash.] that we call “Store Zero.”

TWICE: Is there a timetable for new store openings?
We’re always looking for new locations. It’s a matter of timing; of finding the right real estate in the right location. We’re willing to wait for the right space.