Apple Picking? Microsoft Stores Evoke the Apple Look

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Anecdotal accounts of foot traffic have been mixed. On Black Friday, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster reported that a head count of consumers shopping the Mall of America in Minneapolis showed the Microsoft store to be generating 47 percent less foot traffic than the Apple store.

On the other hand, Morningstar analyst Young told ABC News, he found Microsoft's Boston store fairly busy on his visits there. He asked a salesperson about business: "The guy said he had been selling a tablet every shift." Young calls that "good, not great."

Making sales, however, might not be Microsoft's chief objective with the stores, Young speculates. They're a great environment, he believes, for consumer education: In them, Microsoft can show consumers hands-on, in a "low-stress environment with no pressure to buy," how to get the most out of its products.

Microsoft can show other retailers how it wants its merchandise displayed.

And it can get a more meaningful kind of customer feedback, Young thinks, than it could get from focus groups. In the stores, customers aren't just offering their opinions of Microsoft's products, they're voting (or not) with their money.

Microsoft, Young notes, has announced its intent to manufacture more its own hardware in the future, which would add to the stores' value.

In the past, Young says, Microsoft left marketing and display to third parties: Best Buy, Costco and Walmart, for example.

In the future, he predicts, the company will want to exercise more control over how its wares are sold. "I suspect the stores are not necessarily meant to be money-makers," he says. "They're a marketing expense."

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