Microsoft has just opened the doors of its new and highly-anticipated UK flagship store, located at Oxford Circus – the junction of London’s world-famous Regent Street and Oxford Street.
The tech giant’s store is just yards away from its long time rival Apple, and senior store manager John Carter is preparing for a colossal amount of footfall on its first day. After all, 85 million people pass through this part of London each year.
The 21,932sq ft flagship covers three floors and while it is Microsoft’s first physical bricks-and-mortar store in the UK, it’s only the third outside the US.
“We are very excited about being the centre of Regent Street and the centre of London, it’s such a vibrant city and there’s so many people that come to visit it,” Carter tells Retail Gazette.
“London has been on the road-map for Microsoft for many years, Microsoft has been here almost 40 years in the UK now, so this is like the extension of what the journey is for Microsoft, and having the opportunity of opening up near Oxford Circus, the location we have – it’s an incredible opportunity.”
Carter notes that the London store will share a lot of similarities with the other global Microsoft flagships located in Toronto, Canada and Sydney, Australia.
“You’ll see consistency in all of the flagships, and also in all of our Microsoft stores globally, they are different locations so they do have different features within the store but we all have gaming lounges in a context, we have our community theatre in a context, and we all have our level 2, which is our enterprise, a small community business floor,” he explains.
The London store is situated in the former site of The United Colours of Benetton, and has preserved the building’s heritage.
Carter says the store’s architecture represents “the history of London” with the original stained glass windows preserved and situated where they’ve been for hundreds of years, while the roof and ceiling are still intact.
“That’s what’s very special here,” he says.
“A lot of the stuff we’ve found when we restored the building, so they were covered up, those stained glass windows – we discovered them through the building so that’s what makes this flagship so special.”
Upon entering the store, visitors are greeted by a large video wall and Surface devices on tables that they can trial. There is also an Answer Desk for customers to receive tech support, training, repairs and advice from professionals – similar to Apple’s Genius Bar.
While industry analysts will keep an eye on how Microsoft’s flagship will deliver when it is just yards away from Apple, Carter tells Retail Gazette highlights the many customer experience initiatives available in-store.
One of them is a full-sized McLaren Senna sports car that doubles as a Forza Motorsport 7 experience.
“We have a lot of similarities [with Apple] because we’re in the same industry, but I’m really excited to be able to showcase everything Microsoft has to offer,” Carter says.
“It’s really going to put a wow moment for a lot of people when they come through those doors the first time to see things like a McLaren simulator run by Xbox – it’s a real car.”
It’s quite obvious that the new London store has gamers in mind, not only because of the McLaren simulator but also because of a Gaming Lounge that allows customers to play the latest Xbox games in high-quality gaming chairs and professional pods.
Meanwhile on the second floor, visitors can access Microsoft’s enterprise area, which is place to support, train and grow businesses that require digital transformation.
From small companies and educational institutions to enterprise customers, the product advisors and cloud technical experts help customers discover, deploy and use Microsoft software and other resources to solve business challenges such as AI, data security, collaboration and workplace efficiencies.
Visitors can also utilise the Community Theatre, which offers free workshops all-year-round.
On the same floor, Microsoft has introduced an an area for hosting events, as well as meeting rooms.
There is also a “Selfie Area”, where visitors can take photos with a touristic London city background.
Carter expressed pride in his 150 diverse team members, and attributes London’s cultural diversity for providing that talent.
“There are 45 different languages spoken within the team, with British sign language being one of them,” he says.
Carter also highlights that one of his team members is a “professional Esports gamer”.
“We have people like Claudia – our gaming expert,” he says.
“Our customers can meet people like that in our store. The team is incredible, I think that gives a lot of unique experiences for our customers.”
As part of the launch, Microsoft is donating £1 million to three charities – UK Youth, Raspberry Pi Foundation and The London Community Foundation – to help them continue to teach digital skills to disadvantaged young people.