Q&A: Windows Marketplace Provides Consumers with Broad Product Choice and Shopping Ease

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 12, 2004 — Windows Marketplace, http://www.windowsmarketplace.com , a shopping and download portal offering consumers a large and complete selection of software and hardware for their Windows personal computers, opened for business today. Windows Marketplace was launched as part of the Digital Entertainment Experience More event in Los Angeles, which focused on new digital entertainment experiences for the home and on-the-go, and emphasized the breadth of consumer choice currently available in Windows-compatible products. Windows Marketplace is a key element of Microsoft’s broader vision for a digital lifestyle. It provides consumers with easy access to a broad range of products to enhance their lives and enable them to pursue their passions.

PressPass asked Tom Button, Microsoft corporate vice president for the Windows Group, to explain how Windows Marketplace differs from other online shopping sites, and how it is designed to offer customers an easier and more rewarding online shopping experience.

Tom Button, Corporate Vice President, Windows Client PMG Division Click image for high-res version.

PressPass: What is Windows Marketplace and why is it important?

Button: Windows Marketplace is a new shopping and download site that offers consumers a comprehensive selection in one site of hardware and software technologies that are built specifically to work on Windows-based PCs. Consumers have many choices when they shop for software and hardware, whether that’s a celebrity screen saver, a digital camera or music-editing software. However, the amount of choice can also be overwhelming when consumers are trying to determine where to shop for a product and how to get the information they need to make confident, informed decisions.

That is the problem we set out to solve with Windows Marketplace. With over 93,000 products available on the site, Windows Marketplace is designed to make it simple and easy to locate, evaluate and buy Windows-compatible products in a shopping environment that brings together the features of online shopping, easy browsing, product comparison, moderated discussion groups and community product ratings and reviews.

PressPass: How is Windows Marketplace different from other e-commerce sites where similar products are available?

Button: First of all, Windows Marketplace is the most complete and comprehensive source for the vast and growing selection of products available for the Windows-based PC. Between Microsoft and thousands of third-party developers around the world, roughly 40 to 50 million working years have already gone into the development of software for the Windows PC. Today, several million developers are currently writing new software for Windows-based applications. Together, this output represents a vast selection of hardware, peripherals and application software for a consumer to choose from. While most of these products are already commercially available, there isn’t a place where consumers can go to shop for, evaluate, purchase and download this full range of products. Standard shopping sites carry only the most mainstream of products, which vendors can buy and sell in high volumes. But there really wasn’t a site that presents the entire spectrum of available Windows-based products.

Second, Windows Marketplace makes it simple to evaluate and buy the best product for a consumer’s particular needs. With so many choices, many customers find it challenging to select the right product, particularly when they go shopping online and there’s no one to talk to, and they don’t know whom to trust — so they leave the site. After all, it’s only useful to have 93,000 products in one place if customers can easily find the products they need. We have worked hard to make the exploring and shopping experience as simple and intuitive as possible on Windows Marketplace. We have refined our search tools and categories so that users can easily find the products they want and discover new ones they might be interested in. Consumers can perform more traditional searches by category, by product, by company, and by most popular product. They can also easily compare the products they’re considering by price or features to make sure they are making the right purchase. The site also enables customers to engage with and draw on the experiences of the community of Windows users through peer reviews and moderated discussion groups.

PressPass: What kind of planning and research went into the development of Windows Marketplace?

Button: We did a lot of research, with more than 20 focus groups, more than 100 customer visits, and six weeks of site preparation and testing. In the course of this research, we discovered many interesting facts. We discovered that consumers on average go to more than 20 different sources to make their technology purchase decisions, largely because most consumers find shopping for technology confusing and overwhelming. With Windows Marketplace we dedicated ourselves to making the shopping and evaluation process simpler for Windows customers. We had a great opportunity to start from scratch and design a browsing system that matched more intuitively how customers think.

Taxonomy, or the way products are categorized, was one area where we did the most research. We investigated how customers expected products to be grouped by category, the patterns that customers used as they looked for products, and the words and language that customers found most useful as they browsed and sorted through product choices. Our goal was to create a way of organizing the products to make them maximally discoverable by the customer.

PressPass: Can you give us an example of how you researched taxonomies?

Button: For example, as part of our research, we took the most popular taxonomies used in other sites and then asked focus groups to determine if these categories were actually useful. It turns out that some categories were confusing for average customers – for instance, we found that most people know what is meant by business or office software, but many did not know what productivity software was. So using productivity software as a category really didn’t help customers find the products they need, and in fact probably confused and frustrated them. It’s a historic problem in the high-tech industry: We expect customers to understand the language we speak to ourselves rather than speaking the language that customers understand. This is one area where we did extensive research to make sure that we were presenting products in a vocabulary that’s easy and straightforward for customers to understand.

We also did extensive customer research to find out which products consumers associate with which categories, and how they would naturally group products in categories, with the goal of making products more discoverable. This might seem a subtle thing, but our intent is for customers to find what they are looking for far more intuitively, with fewer clicks and less frustration – with the result that customers can make a purchasing decision with more confidence.

PressPass: How many and what types of products will be available on Windows Marketplace?

Button: Windows Marketplace features 93,000 products, including software, hardware and peripherals designed and created by over 2,000 partners for over 13,000 brands. Over 200 merchants are represented on the site. Windows Marketplace features 20,000 downloads — 5,000 of which are available at no charge — in the download library. The products are divided into 500 different categories, ranging from applications for health and nutrition to wedding-planning software to portable music players, all designed specifically to be compatible with Windows-based PCs. In fact, over 10,000 products carry the Designed-for-Windows logo, meaning that these products have been certified to fully support the Windows platform. Consumers can use a built-in filter to easily find the products with the Designed-for-Windows logo in any category, enabling customers to identify products that deliver a high-quality computing experience with the Microsoft Windows XP operating system.

PressPass: How does a software or hardware company get its products on Windows Marketplace? Is there a cost to sell products through Windows Marketplace?

Button: Windows Marketplace represents one of the most cost-effective ways for Microsoft partners to reach millions of Windows customers through increased exposure, visibility and awareness for Windows-compatible products. The site will also offer partners insight into customer opinion through the product ratings and reviews feature, provide new avenues for customer support and enable collaboration through community-discussion groups. If partners would like to offer their software, hardware or peripherals on Windows Marketplace, they can find more information and sign up at www.microsoft.com/partner/windowsmarketplace. There is no fee involved for partners to be represented and sell their products through Windows Marketplace.

PressPass: What role does CNET Networks play in Windows Marketplace?

Button: CNET has provided pricing and product information for products on Windows Marketplace, and is making the software download library from Download.com available through Windows Marketplace. In addition to working with CNET, Windows Marketplace will also represent products and services from a wide range of partners and vendors.

PressPass: Why has Microsoft chosen to launch Windows Marketplace now?

Button: Our customers have asked us for a single resource like Windows Marketplace to take the confusion out of making technology purchases for their PC. It’s overdue, people have asked for our help, and now we are delivering.

At the same time, we also knew that we have many partner companies on both the hardware and the software side that needed a more efficient way to reach the consumers, since there aren’t many vendors willing to carry or promote products that have a relatively narrow potential target market. Windows Marketplace was conceived out of the need to provide millions of consumers with the broadest possible selection of Windows products while offering visibility and sales potential for our partners.

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