Eight months after its launch last October, Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system has not exactly been a hit with consumers. However, the product could get a much-needed boost from the mini stores that Microsoft plans to open in 500 Best Buy locations in the U.S. between June and September. Microsoft could make good use of the opportunity to physically demonstrate the special features of Windows 8, which many users have found disorienting.
On desktop computers, Windows 8 adoption trails earlier Windows operating systems, and on mobile computing devices, it scrapes the bottom in a market led by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. The Best Buy Windows stores could help. “One of the keys to getting a new product to catch on is making it easy to try,” says Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On.
Windows 7 is the most popular operating system among PC users, coming in with a share of nearly 45%, followed by Windows XP (38%), according to May 2013 statistics from NetMarketShare, which tracks trends in Internet technologies. Windows 8 has a share of 4.27%, lower than the 4.51% for Windows Vista, another operating system that did not make the grade with users. Among operating systems for mobile devices — including phones and tablets — iOS has a share of nearly 60%, followed by Android at 24%. Windows’ market share among mobile devices is in the low single digits, lower than Symbian and BlackBerry.
Windows 8 has clearly struggled to get traction, and Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Andrea Matwyshyn explains why. In a December 2012 Knowledge at Wharton article , she suggested that Windows 8 “has caused user angst” through disorientation. “When you disrupt user comfort, you create unnecessary tension.”
Berger contends that users need a good reason to change their operating system. “Why switch to Windows 8 when the current version works fine?” he asks. However, he feels the new Windows stores at Best Buy locations will make it easier for consumers to “see the potential benefits of adopting this new technology — if there are some.”
Microsoft follows the lead set by Samsung Electronics which in April launched a plan to open 1,400 “Samsung Experience Shops” at Best Buy locations. Microsoft will have fewer stores there — in addition to the 500 in the U.S., there will be 100 in Canada — but they will be between 1,500 to 2,200 square feet each compared to the 460 square feet or less for Samsung. Microsoft and Best Buy will also jointly deploy 1,200 employees who will wear polo shirts bearing Microsoft’s logo at the Windows stores.
Microsoft could take a cue from how Apple has designed its stores, suggests Berger. “Apple stores have done so well because they’re an experience,” he says. “Sure, you can buy something, but it is also a chance to see all the exciting things you can do with Apple products.” For Microsoft to maximize the gains from its new Best Buy initiative, it should make its stores “more than just a sales channel. The more Microsoft treats the stores like an experience, the better off they will be.”