Microsoft and Best Buy team up to open mini-stores

Microsoft and Best Buy announced on Thursday that they're teaming up to open 600 Windows Stores this summer. The Windows Stores will replace the computer sections of certain Best Buys, and might help both companies move past a depressing fiscal quarter.

Windows Stores will replace the computer sections of 600 Best Buy outlets in the US and Canada. Here, a prototype Windows Store displays Microsoft software and accessories.

Microsoft started its retail ground game a little late -- its stores didn’t start popping up until 2009 -- but it’s making up for lost time. On Thursday the software company announced that it’s partnering with Best Buy to open small “Windows Stores” in 600 Best Buys in the US and Canada. The Windows stores will replace the computer sections in those locations, and will have computers and tablets running Windows 8, Windows phones, and Xboxes on display for customers to try.

There may be some extra pressures behind this announcement, however, besides the companies’ desire to showcase Microsoft products. Windows 8, the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, hasn’t caught on the way the company hoped it would; PC sales were down last quarter by the largest margin ever, according to market-research firm IDC; and Best Buy lost $81 million that same quarter.

Best Buy has taken a number of steps this year to fight back against competition from online electronics companies. In April, the store started allowing Samsung to open mini-retail stores -- staffed with Samsung employees -- in Best Buy outlets. And it instituted a policy of matching competitors’ prices, in response to consumers’ tendency to use the stores as showrooms (trying out products at Best Buy, then purchasing them more cheaply elsewhere). Now, the company hopes the Windows Stores will help people get more familiar with Windows 8 PCs, ultimately boosting sales.

“We’re pleased to partner with Best Buy in bringing the latest technologies to consumers ... where they can explore how Microsoft products fit together across entertainment, travel, music and other scenarios,” Microsoft executive Tami Reller said in the announcement. The operative words there are “fit together.” There are so many different Windows 8 devices out there that many customers feel bewildered and confused by how the phones, tablets, Ultrabooks, and computers are supposed to complement each other.

Windows Stores will give them a chance to get comfortable with the devices by having some hands-on time. Plus, Microsoft says it’ll give special training to Best Buy employees working in the Windows Stores, so they’ll presumably be well-informed and able to guide customers through a sometimes-confusing landscape of products.

The Windows Stores will roll out between June and September, and will be staffed by a mix of Microsoft employees and over 1,200 Best Buy associates.

Readers, do you do any of your computer shopping at Best Buy? Will the Windows Stores be helpful to you? Let us know in the comments section below.

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