Microsoft is taking its flagship retail store concept beyond the shores of North America, opening its first international Microsoft store in Sydney, Australia on Thursday.
The Redmond-based tech giant has been eager to build buzz around the launch of its first standalone Asia Pacific location and second flagship, after the two-storey Microsoft store in Manhattan. Customers queued in the bright sun with the the promise of free concert tickets and lucky door prizes for early birds, before the window coverings dropped to reveal store staff dancing and cheering inside.
Microsoft already has a strong presence in North America with more than 110 physical stores in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It also maintains 17 store-in-store locations in China. But aside from these shopfronts and its online store (now established across more than 180 countries), Microsoft has not had a standalone bricks and mortar presence outside North America until now.
The Sydney opening was timed to coincide with the Australian launch of Microsoft's new Surface Book and Microsoft Band wearable, both of which will be exclusively available at the store's launch. In addition to the new products, Australian customers can also expect the local arrival of the Surface Pro 4 tablet. In the smartphone space, the Lumia 950 and 950XL will be on show and available for pre-order in the store ahead of both smartphones arriving in Australia "before Christmas."
The day-one availability of these products is a big win for Australian consumers, who missed out on the first iteration of the Microsoft Band altogether, and who often encounter longer wait times for products after international launches.
Microsoft is also keen to get the select few gamers who aren't holed up playing "Fallout 4" or "Rise of the Tomb Raider" into the store to get hands-on with the Xbox One. Microsoft has dotted dedicated gaming screens around the store, alongside its two-storey video wall, amassing a total of 178 digital panels with 38 different video feeds.
The main focus for the store, according to Microsoft Australia managing director Pip Marlow, is to bring together the full range of the brand's products into one place for consumers -- whether that's playing Minecraft on Xbox, learning how to sync a Microsoft Band with a Lumia smartphone, or getting coloured Type Covers for your Surface.
"We want this to be all of Microsoft under one roof, including our broader ecosystem of accessories and third-party devices," Marlow said.
The store has opted for a minimalist layout over the "packed to the gills with accessories" aesthetic favoured by many Australian retailers, with wooden floors and product tables and bright white LED lighting overhead. But there are also plenty of accessories to be found, with Surface cases from Kate Spade, Minecraft toys and even headphones from Beats, owned by rival manufacturer-cum-retailer, Apple.
That brand-agnostic focus extends to the Answer Desks that Microsoft has set up in-store to help with device problems and new product set-up. There are echoes of Apple's Genius Bar, and Microsoft says it's happy to see iPads and Macs come across the desk for troubleshooting.
"Our doors are open to anyone who wants to come in with any device, no matter where they purchased it from or what manufacturer it is," said Sydney store manager Nick Wells. "Any sort of service we can provide or any sort of advice we can provide, [we'll have] an open door policy."
The branded store concept is not new to Australia. Apple has been holed up around the corner from the Sydney Microsoft Store since 2008, and Samsung moved in around the block in 2012.
With the store opening 6 weeks before Christmas in prime real estate on Sydney's busy Pitt Street Mall, the 500-square-metre store is sure to get plenty of foot traffic. But Microsoft is hoping its store will be a destination once the busy shopping season dies down.
"We want it to be a gathering point," said store manager Nick Wells. "We want people to say, 'Hey, let's meet at the Microsoft Store."