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Microsoft: It's not just a store, it's a branding experience

Microsoft execs dropped a few more hints on February 13 about what the company's just-announced Microsoft-branded retail stores might look like.

Microsoft execs dropped a few more hints on February 13 about what the company's just-announced Microsoft-branded retail stores might look like.

Microsoft still isn't talking particulars -- the whens and wheres -- of the family of Microsoft-branded stores that it is going to build. But at Minority Student Day at the company's Redmond headquarters, Microsoft President of Entertainment and Devices Robbie Bach, told reporters that Microsoft isn't going to be seeking to emulate the Apple retail concept. (That's refreshing, given how deep Apple envy seems to run on the consumer side of Microsoft these days.)

Seattle Times blogger Benjamin Romano quoted Bach on how Microsoft's retail stores will be different from Apple's:

"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."

Does that mean Microsoft won't be pushing to sell Xboxes and Big-Ass Tables in its retail outlets? Will it actually sell PCs, phones, consoles and software at all? Or will it simply turn its forthcoming Microsoft stores into showrooms, with all product fulfillment happening through referrals to PC makers, other retail outlets and/or PC vendors themselves?

Former Softie Robert Scoble has a (very) long post with advice for Microsoft on how to do better than Apple at retail. The short version of his post: Start with bathroom design. (No, I'm not kidding). My ZDNet blogging colleague Larry Dignan advises Microsoft to use its new stores as a beta-testing fishbowl for gathering information from customers to whom they might not be talking already.  And All Things D blogger Kara Swisher reminisces about Microsoft's previous failed attempt at going retail with a store in San Francisco.

One thing's for sure: David Porter, the new head of retail stores for Microsoft, sure has a daunting task ahead....