Microsoft today announced that its long-awaited UK retail launch will take place on July 11, less than six weeks from now, when it opens its first London store. As you’d expect from any ambitious UK retail launch worth its salt, Microsoft has chosen to open the initial store on London’s hectic Oxford Circus – a busy retail mecca for shoppers and tourists alike.
Interestingly, this puts it within spitting distance of Cupertino’s first UK Apple Store, which opened in 2004 and is based on Regent Street.
Although Microsoft has had a continuous presence in the US retail space 2009, its growth overseas has been comparatively sluggish. Beyond the borders of the continental United States, Redmond operates a modest chain of stores within Canada, as well as one in Sydney, Australia, and another in the US overseas territory of Puerto Rico.
Redmond first announced it would open a UK store in 2017. Suffice to say, July’s launch is long overdue. Incidentally, it’s also Europe’s first Microsoft store. So, what can punters expect?
Well, above all, it’s going to be big.
Microsoft has acquired a retail space that stretches over three floors and has 21,932 square feet of floorspace. Oxford Circus is notorious for having among the most expensive commercial rents in Britain, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft is paying through the nose to occupy its prestigious corner of the high street.
The store is situated on the junction of Regent’s Street and Oxford Street, and is directly opposite the Oxford Circus underground station, giving it prime access to shoppers and visitors alike.
When you step inside, Microsoft promises an experience that blends traditional retail alongside an exhibition showroom. Interactive zones will allow visitors to experiment with the newest Microsoft hardware, including the HoloLens mixed reality headset.
Microsoft also plans to include an educational aspect. The flagship store will include a so-called “Community Theatre,” where the company will run year-round workshops on coding and STEM. This isn’t too far removed from what Apple does with its own stores, but Microsoft is aiming this at a broader audience, from business professionals to educators.
The flagship store will also offer a Genius Bar-style helpdesk, which Microsoft calls the “Answers Desk,” where users can get support, advice, and repairs. Interestingly, Microsoft has opened this up to all devices, regardless of the brand, device, where it was purchased, or indeed, the operating system.
As I understand it, this means that if you’ve got an issue with your MacBook Pro, a Microsoft-employed bod would theoretically be able to help you. Or, at the very least, would try.
That’s an interesting concept, but I do wonder how scalable it is. A common complaint with the Genius Bar is that it takes forever to get seen. By opening its equivalent to literally anyone with a computer, Microsoft the Answers Desk is guaranteed to be perpetually rammed.
And then there’s the normal retail bit. Microsoft will use its UK store to sell Surfaces, Xboxes, and other assorted gear. From the description, it seems like the company is trying to avoid its London flagship becoming yet-another whitewashed Apple Store clone. It describes eye-catching “immersive video walls” that’ll snake through the store.
Suffice to say, I’m really interested to see what it’ll look like when it finally opens. If you want to check it out to yourself, it’ll open to the public on July 11. You can read more about it on this Microsoft blog post.