Disclaimer
I rarely write a pure opinion piece on my blog, but I’ve spoken to a few people about this topic and have now decided to finally commit my thoughts to the Internet. It’s also worth noting that this is based fast hand on what’s happening in Australia, and may not be reflected to the rest of the world.

Introduction

Microsoft have long been fighting a war, with three main competitors fighting for survival in the future of computing. The fronts touch pretty much every consumer facing technology, from the living room, traditional desktop, phone, and now the tablet. As most people know, I’m a strong advocate for the Microsoft offering – and have been loyal (but not exclusive) to their product range for over a decade. This war however is far from over, yet unfortunately Microsoft seem to be loosing battles they should be able to win. For me wining the hearts and minds of consumers in a retail environment should be one such battle where the odds are equal (if not even weighted) in Microsoft’s favour.

High Street Stores

Having working with Windows 8 since it’s launch, and touring around Australia/New Zealand to teach people about the new OS I was one of the many who was excited for it’s launch. I’m sufficiently familiar with using the new features in both desktop, and tablet form; and for months I had been on the XBox SmartGlass beta and I absolutely adored the seamless interoperability between the products. I was even more excited when I received my developer Lumia 920 devices, which excelled at unifying this ecosystem. I signed into my new phone and also magically my music (via XBox music), photos, Skydrive documents, contacts all synced across from my three different Windows 8 machines onto my new phone.

The only part missing from my experience was a light weight WinRT tablet device. I was (and still am) torn between Microsoft’s own Surface device, which as it stands is the champion device for Windows 8 as a mobile platform, Vs. Asus Vivo Tab RT, which has a whole lot of extra technology, inc. integrated 3G and has a similar form factor to the iPad (i.e. smaller than the Surface so easier to handle).

So shortly after the launch of Windows 8 I headed down to my local Harvey Norman (one of the largest consumer electronic retailer in Australia) to compare the devices. I was excited as during the launch week of Windows 8, Harvey Norman and Microsoft had partnered to offer a premium retail experience, they had trained hundreds of staff, and where building specialized Windows demonstration areas. On my first visit I attended, not really expecting much Windows hyper and the experience lived up to my expectations. Certainly Windows PC’s where the most prominent thing on display when I entered the store, they where close to the entrance and had huge banners detailing the product. The staff in the PC area had no real interest in the OS, even though it had only just launched, most of the PC’s that where running Windows 8 where Windows 7 machines that had been upgraded. There was none of the launch devices on display, no WinRT devices, no tablets. If you live in Australia, you do however come to expect delays in any technology launch. As much as we like to think, we are not a significant market for OEM’s – and due to this I thought I would give it a few weeks and try again.

After a week or so I reached out to the ASUS social media team to ask about the availability of the Vivo Tab and soon after they informed me they had arrived in Harvey Norman. The other device I was keen to check out (again) was the ASUS Tai Chi Ultrabook, but to date these have not been available. Once I had confirmation that Harvey Norman had stock of the WinRT tablet I planned another visit. This time with slightly higher expectations. I arrived, and the experience was much worse. I searched for 35 minutes in the store before I found the tablet I was looking for. A premium WinRT device, and one of the only ones available for consumers to buy in-store, was setup fully docked with keyboard amongst it’s Android equivalents. This posed two significant issues; firstly I had mistaken it for a netbook (as the keyboard dock is chunky and gives this appearance), and this was me specifically looking for the product. A consume browsing the aisles looking for devices would never realise what the device was, and it’s true purpose. The second significant issue is the price. Harvey Norman had priced the tablet at $999, and sat it next to the Android equivalent ASUS device (same form factor, looks, etc.) but priced at $549.

When walking around searching for the tablet, I noticed that only 1/3 of the computers in the store where running Windows 8. The rest (and including every All-in-one, touch enabled device) where running Windows 7. A lot of the Windows 7 machines where also heavily discounted in comparison to the newer Windows 8 machines. So this did not help in one conversation I over heard when an older couple where looking for an additional Windows machine and the sales guy was trying to explain the a WinRT device was suitable for their needs. The dialogue of "Can I run x on the device?", "No this is not a full version of Windows, it’s a light weight mobile version", "So why is this machine $999, when this one here with Windows 7 that can run x is only $699" doesn’t exactly encourage people to buy the Windows iPad equivalent. In all likely hood the WinRT device was suitable for the couples needs but ASUS had been out priced from the start, and the sales guys didn’t do the device justice either.

After he dealt with the customer I spent some time with the sales guy, who I found out was the local Windows technical expert – meaning he had been trained by Microsoft to sell Windows devices. He noticed my phone, a bright red Lumia 920, and asked me a few questions. I soon found out he also had a Lumia 820 in his pocket, and he was a Nokia master – a program that Nokia has used to encourage sales people to sell Lumia devices, which supplied him with the phone. The first thing I found out however was he preferred his iPhone 5 and didn’t really use the 820. A great statement mind by the person charged with selling me a device. I also wondered why he hadn’t used the Lumia device in part of his sales pitch of selling the Windows 8 platform to customers, and it appeared he just simply didn’t get it. He didn’t see how the devices formed part of the bigger ecosystem, he didn’t know how to get them working together, he didn’t really know how to use it. My last question for him before I left the store was if you are selling these devices to consumers, where is your XBox? Much to my surprise I was told they had one. It was 80 meters away in their TV section, but he hadn’t used it to showcase SmartGlass as the store‚Äôs wireless connection wasn’t that great.

Windows 8 Launch

I mentioned earlier that I attended the launch of Windows 8 in Australia, hosted by Microsoft in Sydney. At the time I thought it was going to be marketing hype, and an afternoon of networking. I was however pleasantly surprised. After the keynote session we where shown into a show area set-up with several scenarios established and how Windows 8 devices fit naturally into them. They had workshops, with pen-input capable tablets that people could sketch with, or view diagnostics, or touch-enabled all-in-ones for when a keyboard was too challenging. They had a kitchen with the Surface cooking apps, and they had a living room with an XBox, tablet, and an all-in-one with XBox controllers plugged-in as the inputs.

For the first time since BUILD Microsoft had managed to showcase Windows 8 off as a key focal point of it’s whole ecosystem and people where enjoying it. You could see how the new start-menu worked, where apps benefitted, and how businesses could start utilizing the platform. All in all the experience was great, but this was reserved purely for media, press, "VIPs", and Microsoft employees. The general public never got to see this launch, and the only consumer-facing Microsoft presence during the launch time was a small stand in Westfield’s housing 4 Surface devices.

So why are we loosing this battle?

If you read the reviews on Windows 8, and Windows Phone 8, people don’t critise the devices, and the OS directly, the significant criticism comes from "ecosystem". People feel the devices are siloed and limited by the functionality offered to them out of the box. Microsoft has taken this to mean that people want apps, and partially this is true. The ecosystem can be grown by third parties – but only with high quality apps that improve and add to the ecosystem. Nobody wants a torch or fart app on their desktop or tablet. Yet Microsoft’s current marketing objectives, their funding, and KPIs are to build apps. Let’s improve the ecosystem score by pushing 20k apps into the store. The majority free, and a significant amount not having any benefit to anyone except the marketing guys who can stand on stage and say we can complete with Apple and Google because we have a comparable numbers of apps available on our ecosystem. My personal opinion? If you want to improve the consumer and media perception of Windows 8, sell more devices, and win this battle – lets fix the retail experience.
Firstly make Windows 8 an experience. If Harvey Norman want to be a premier partner, and in the absence of any Microsoft stores in Sydney start mandating the following:

  • Build the Windows 8 showcase around a consumer environment. Set-up a TV, couch, and XBox in the showcase so people can play with SmartGlass and see how the media scenario fits in to Windows.

  • Get rid of the awful demo video being run on every machine, and start showing off apps.

  • Plug-in peripherals such as XBox controllers, and load up games from the store to get people more familiar with the new start screen and ecosystem.

  • Upgrade all display computers to Windows 8. People buying these machines are entitled to an upgrade so there is no reason for the display models to be showing the older OS.

  • Ensure Windows Phone is included in the showcase, and demos.

  • Set-up scenarios to demonstrate to consumers the significant features, picture password, content syncing, dockable tablets, Office on WinRT.

  • Ensure Win8 specific devices are the showcase, make them more prominent, and display the in their true form factor.

This should be followed up with great sales staff who show a passion for the products, and know the ecosystem inside out.

I really feel this is a battle that can be fought, and quite possibly even won- but currently Windows 8 (and to some extent Windows Phone) is being sold short by Microsoft in consumer retail outlets and for any chance of success this needs to be fixed.

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6 thoughts on “The Sorry State of Windows 8 (retail) marketing

  • November 28, 2012 at 8:11 pm
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    I found a similar scenario in my Harvey Normans and Dick Smith shop.
    After talking to the sales guys they all had the same comment; they wont recommend Windows 8 to customers because they don’t want the perceived hassle when the customer comes back complaining about it.
    Once again FUD wins out over reason and objectivity.

    Reply
  • November 29, 2012 at 1:25 am
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    that’s what i’m talking about, MS marketing is really crap, even their ads doesn’t really show the benefits/edge, hopefully MS will read your story

    Reply
  • November 29, 2012 at 1:25 am
    Permalink

    that’s what i’m talking about, MS marketing is really crap, even their ads doesn’t really show the benefits/edge, hopefully MS will read your story

    Reply
  • November 29, 2012 at 10:02 am
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    have worked for distributors and Manufacturers in Australia for many years and understand how retail works here – especially Harvey Norman. All that I can comment officially is that the problem is not Microsoft but the retailers themselves and the culture they foster in store. It is difficult for any Manufacturer to do effective in-store marketing in Australia.

    Reply
  • December 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm
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    Hi Lewis,
    I have had no previous marketing experience or actually thought about how other programs and devices affect each other in various ways not too mention in different countries. It is all very interesting too me and can sometimes be overwhelming to me if I don’t fully understand or I make a mistake that should of easily been noticed. I do think sharing and partnership and knowledge, not just on a computer, device, or operating system, but on any level can improve success. I work in Fast Food and don’t get 40 hrs. a week. I have so much too learn. Thank You for your views and wish you continued success.

    Reply
  • December 18, 2012 at 3:48 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Lewis,
    I have had no previous marketing experience or actually thought about how other programs and devices affect each other in various ways not too mention in different countries. It is all very interesting too me and can sometimes be overwhelming to me if I don’t fully understand or I make a mistake that should of easily been noticed. I do think sharing and partnership and knowledge, not just on a computer, device, or operating system, but on any level can improve success. I work in Fast Food and don’t get 40 hrs. a week. I have so much too learn. Thank You for your views and wish you continued success.

    Reply

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