Microsoft’s first retail store in Canada opens today, here’s what it looks like

Daniel Bader

November 16, 2012 9:14am

We attended a media event yesterday to see a sneak preview of the brand new Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall, opening today in the under-construction new wing.

Among other promitional activities going on to celebrate the opening, Microsoft has invited Wayne Gretzky to visit the store and play some Kinect Hockey with a few lucky kids. Later tonight, the band Train will be performing in a makeshift tent that has taken over part of the mall’s parking lot. It’s all very charming, but when the dust settles, the question still remains: does Microsoft need its own store?

The question has ostensibly already been answered: while this is Canada’s first retail outlet for the Redmond-based company, the company has some 30 permanent stores open in the United States, and over 20 more “pop-up” locations in both the U.S. and Canada.

As you might expect, the Microsoft Store takes a few lessons from its Cupertino rival, but one must not mistake inspiration for mere facsimile. Yes, there are a number of touch devices allayed on tables ready for perusal; yes, the caffeinated employees wear colourful t-shirts and friendly smiles; yes, there is the equivalent of a Genius Bar known as the Answer Desk, with service members ready to troubleshoot your every need.

But the Microsoft store is less about Microsoft products than it is about showcasing all the various ways in which the company can enrich your life through desktop or mobile computing. To be honest, I found the store to be far more inviting and less sterile than the average Apple Store. From the gorgeous wooden tables to the individual Xbox console units to the wrap-around screens on the perimeter, the Microsoft Store feels lively and exciting without appearing desperate.

Of course, the Surface RT tablet and Windows 8 laptops appear front and centre in the store. And rightfully so. Barring any preconceived notions about the Surface as a computing device, there is no doubt that it makes for a striking centrepiece, one on which Microsoft employees can show off the various improvements made to its brand-new operating system. The store provides free WiFi for guests, and users can take a seat at one of the many provided tables to relax, chat or just stare at the abundance.

Mobile gets a pretty fair showing in the Microsoft Store, too. Not only has the company repurposed its “Windows Phone Challenge” content for in-store trials, but it allows prospective shoppers to touch and use both the Nokia Lumia 920 on Rogers and the Windows Phone 8X by HTC on Bell and Rogers. More phones will be added to the roster as they’re released, so you can expect the Samsung ATIV S on TELUS and Rogers to be showcased quite soon.

The retail store seems to be the only place one can pick up a case for his or her brand new Windows Phone 8 device, too. Microsoft sells first-party and third-party covers for the Windows Phone 8X, all of which were between $20 and $25. The Lumia 920 doesn’t have any official cases, but an employee I spoke to said that they will be stocking as many phone accessories as they can to cover the growing demand.

Microsoft also sells Touch and Type covers for the Surface, along with cases from Incipio. In fact, it seems like Incipio is one of the premiere launch partners for the Microsoft Store, as they have a huge presence in the accessories section.

When we asked the store manager what at prices we can expect various products to be sold, she said that Microsoft will never charge more than its partners, and will occasionally undercut them by a few dollars. In other words, you’re not going to find any bargains or huge sales in the Microsoft Store, but you are unlikely to be overcharged, too.

Whether the Microsoft Store succeeds or fails isn’t really the point. The store will likely never be a money-maker for Microsoft the way the Apple Store is for its namesake. But having a real-world presence, and being able to showcase why Windows 8, or Windows Phone 8, is better than the competition, is of strategic importance to Microsoft, and one that we can’t quantify with sales figures or activation numbers.

If you’re a resident of Toronto, the Microsoft Store is now open at Yorkdale Mall. While no other plans for retail stores in Canada have been announced, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear about one or two more in the coming months. There are also pop-up stores in Edmonton, Burnaby and Vancouver, in addition to Toronto’s Eaton Centre.

  • anona

    I wish I could live in this store.

    • ICSinNovember

      The Walls are covered in glass to avoid getting infected with Virus!

    • ICSinNovember

      Use the hands sanitizer on the way out and avoid touching any overpriced and dirty “Surface”.

    • BB9900

      …and you would have the FLU Virus all year round!

  • Raid

    It’s about time other companies that offer full hardware/software solutions start doing this. Apple did it and it turned out great for their business. Microsoft now has a really strong line of hardware to go along their software so there’s no reason not to.

  • Matthew

    Looks good. I’m an Apple guy myself but Microsoft has been doing a lot lately that has really impressed me.

  • General Gustov

    Very nice , so lets start heading west 🙂

    • Keith

      Yes and east too.

  • paul

    It’s a shame they don’t appear to sell unlocked Windows phones. Hopefully they’re not fussy about selling them outside of a contract term.
    Maybe next they can work on their online store – at the moment it’s lacking compared to the American one.

    • Crocography

      I hope they sell unlocked phones, that is why I am going there tomorrow. I will be really disappointed.

  • Netguru

    “The store will likely never be a money-maker for Microsoft the way the Apple Store is for its namesake.” That’s your opinion. In the real world, Microsoft must believe that they will be profitable as they have already opened 30 permanent stores with more to come.

    • panda

      I doubt that it is Microsoft’s highest priority to be profitable at the moment but to reintroduce themselves to the market that they are also a major player mobile computing market. If opening 30 or so stores is what they need to gain market recognition, then that’s what they’ll do.

    • Netguru

      No corporation is going to open a chain of stores, pay premium rent, hire employees, pay them salary and benefits, and stock inventory just to gain market recognition.

    • Ant

      “No corporation is going to open a chain of stores, pay premium rent, hire employees, pay them salary and benefits, and stock inventory just to gain market recognition.”

      I laughed. You clearly have no idea what Microsoft does. They are clearly not making a straight up loss, but I doubt they are making much, if anything, from these stores. They do it for the brand recognition.

    • caribouroader

      No Netguru…….market presence is a precursor to sales…need the first to obtain the second.

    • dave thans

      Netguru: Yes, they do. It’s about brand recognition. These stores serve as free advertising. The sales from within the stores pay the operating overhead but showing consumers you are a major player is the benefit. You think Microsoft cares about the measly money a single store sells? No. It’s about convincing millions of consumers to buy their brand. They sell their products in thousands of stores across North America, they don’t need their own store just for sales.

      The store pays for itself so it’s free advertising and brand awareness to thousands of consumers/potential buyers who shop at that mall and the millions kg People hearing about them having their own store.

  • menodumb

    Why always Yorkdale Mall ?

    • John z

      Yorkdale is a high end mall unlike Eatons center. Look at the 2 & you will see it. Scarborough town center & Fairview do not even compete with Yorkdale either. All the high end stores go to Yorkdale.

    • ICSinNovember

      Yorkdale is not the right showcase.
      Microsoft should have gotten a place at the High End of “The Galleria” Mall in Toronto!

    • D

      Yorkdale is the highest grossing mall in Canada’s biggest and best city. That’s why.

    • COB

      They could have used Sherway Gardens too though, another very high end mall.

  • Toronto Marlins

    Any word on whether they’re selling unlocked Lumia 920s and/or 920s in colours other than black?

    • Hugues

      I think many people were waiting for this store to open to find out if Microsoft was indeed going to sell them in other colors. At first glance, it looks like not only do they not sell different colors, they don’t even sell them unlocked.

      As someone else mentioned, their Canadian online store is pretty bad compared to the US one, so I guess our best options remain Negri Electronics and Expansys.

    • ICSinNovember

      They keep the Nokia Un-lucked 920s Unlocked….but still nobody takes them!

      I think they have to change the “Take One” sign to
      “PLEASE Take One”.

      Hard to sell a 920 in BLACK at those prices, who is going to know that is a Nokia if the phone is black like every other phone?

  • Matthew

    That sucks that I can’t get a coloured unlocked phone here. I was one of those that Hugues mentioned hoping that I could at this store.

  • schultzter

    It’s interesting that Apple has their own stores; now Microsoft has stores. I never understood why Sony didn’t leverage their stores – that exist long before Apple’s – and other retail channels for their mobile phones.

    • landragon

      They did, but their stuff was so expensive nobody went in there.

    • Jack

      And your telling me Apple isn’t…

    • schultzter

      @Jack Apple isn’t… isn’t what?! I’m talking about Sony here. You saw the word “Apple” and immediately thought I was bashing them ‘cuz my comment wasn’t dripping with sycophantic adulation for iDevices?! Typical.

    • Jack

      It was directed to landragon.

  • skinnypig

    Do they at least sell phones off-contract here?

    • Nick G

      Purchased one today. $550. No contract. Locked

  • John

    I’m gonna go there soon to check it out. I just hope crapple doesn’t do a lawsuit for store impersonation or some b.s.

  • David

    OMG i need to go there like NOW!!

  • TK

    yea, do they sell WP8 off contact like US MS stores do?

  • GarethisOnit

    Dr.Dre Beats Headphones though? Really???? Not cool. Not a fan of the white slabs on the wooden surfaces either. Total disconnection between form & materials. In Windows 8 style…. why is another hurdle needed? It should be simple visual design… aka Surface on Suface (No pun intended) Credit for trying though.

  • dave thans

    Anyone else think the “meet Steve” sign was a poor decision? Of all the names in this world they choose Steve.

    You build a store that is similar to appl es and put a giant sign saying “meet steve”. Someone should be fired for sheer Stu pitity.

  • sum guy

    Looks like a dumb design for the phone display. There are six phones crowded together but because they’re facing the inside edge of a curved desk, there’s only room for three people to sit and try them. What a waste! Better to have the phones facing the outside edge of a rounded desk instead, so that a user can be on each phone and others can crowd behind them and see what’s happening. It’s supposed to be all about getting hands-on experience in a store like this.

  • OgtheDim

    Train still exists?

  • Steve

    lukewarm sales of the surface tablets so far. horrible windows phone 7 adoption. zune/kin dead. what else? yah i can see why opening a retail store totally makes sense.

  • Scott

    I’ve been to both Microsoft stores in the Seattle area. No question in my mind that they are spending money big time to go head to head with Apple and build consumer brand recognition. Hell, the store at University Village is directly across the parking lot from the Apple store, it’s almost as if they were glaring at each other! 🙂

  • HighClassFrenchCricket

    Who would go to a store to mess around with a windows OS? LMAO, might as well go to a public library or community centre and use windows for free. Better yet, Walmart has an even better Windows display right beside the discount bins in the electronics section. Seriously? EL OH EL jajajajaja

    • trueteller

      Jeez…give it a rest, man.

  • Ben S

    BTW, the Microsoft popup kiosk in Eaton Centre is selling Nokia 920’s and (possibly) HTC 8X’s, and they had stock. The nice kids working there told me they could sell it off-contract, but I have yet to test that. Checked the three Rogers kiosks and Rogers+ in the area, no demo phones of either, or stock, and Rogers hasn’t informed the staff if/when they’re getting any.
    I’m still looking forward to picking up one of the phones, but a bit baffled by this seemingly non-existent product launch.

  • JB

    I’m crossing my fingers that the Microsoft Store will sell unlocked Lumia 920s in a selection of colours in the very near future. Is that too much to ask?

  • stylinred

    They’re not selling unlocked versions of the phones? that’s such a disappointment since they sold unlocked Lumias in the States

  • MattyMattMatt

    This is what the CRTC needs to fix! Yes, I can buy outright! No, it is still locked to the worst provider next to Wind.