REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 12, 2003 — Even as the power and affordability of consumer technology have advanced dramatically in the past five years, concerns ranging from apprehension about upgrades to the economic downturn have kept many people out of stores. In a pilot project to help change the way people shop for technology solutions, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard (HP) have recently joined forces to open “experience centers” in retail stores in four states — with more to come in the fall across the U.S.
The centers are comprised of individual kiosks that feature complete technology solutions around specific scenarios, such as the digital-photography experience or the music experience.
“The Microsoft/HP experience centers are intended to help demystify technology for mainstream consumers,” says Darrell West, director of business and retail strategy for Microsoft’s Home and Retail Division.
“Technologies like digital cameras and wireless networks have become a lot more accessible. Placed in the retail stores where customers make their purchases, these centers allow us to show consumers that these latest products are not just for technology enthusiasts.”
The pilot program launched July 26 when seven centers opened in metropolitan areas in the U.S. (see list of locations at right). Three more openings are planned for September at sites to be announced.
“Our hope is that these centers will help boost the entire PC ecosystem,” West says. “If a person is interested in purchasing a digital camera, for example, they can see how easy it is to download photos on Microsoft Windows XP, to touch them up with products like Picture It!, and then print them out or share them on MSN.”
Digital Photography: Cherish Your Memories
Where many stores separate technology such as digital cameras from photo-editing software, the centers bring them together in one space. Each experience center covers about 225 square feet (68.5 square meters) of retail space. Representatives from Microsoft or HP are available at each site to answer questions and teach people how to get the most value and the best experience from their home technology. In addition, each center will hold clinics based on timely consumer interests, such as how to make greeting cards during the holiday season.
The digital-photography experience, for instance, focuses on using the latest technology to preserve cherished memories. Visitors will be stepped through the experience of acquiring, creating, sharing and consuming — in various ways, in various ways, including printed formats or online via Web communities.
The music experience will show visitors the advantages of converting music to digital format by showing how much easier it is to create, share and enjoy once a musical collection has been digitized.
“These experience centers are not just about individual products, but the whole digital experience,” says Kate Carcelen, product manager with Microsoft eHome.
“We’re focusing on memories, music, home networking, and SoHo–or small office-home office. Once we get people to see how easy and fun it is to bring technology into their lives, they’ll start wanting to do more. And through people’s use of digital technology, they’ll pull their friends and family into this lifestyle.”
Experience Centers Drive Technology Improvements
Microsoft’s and HP’s own experiences at the new centers will, in turn, inform the next step in products and services offered by both companies. “We’re going to look at retailers’ responses, feedback from the experience reps, and metrics and performance based on sales data,” West says. “Our primary goal is to get closer to the customer, then use that relationship to improve upon our products and services.”