I had a chance to spend a day working at the Microsoft Retail Store in Scottsdale, AZ on August 30th.  I promised I would share my experience so here goes.

First, I have not worked in retail since high school when I worked at a fast food restaurant in Phoenix so I was just a bit apprehensive of what I would encounter. 

I arrived at the store a bit early so I could have time to enjoy my triple, venti, soy, 5 scoop macha mocha from Starbucks before starting my shift.  Nancy Pierson, Product Advisor, was hosting the monthly Woman in Business Breakfast Social when I arrived.  There must have been over 60 people in attendance.  This is one of many regular ongoing activities that the store hosts for professionals to get together to network and learn.  The topic is not necessarily focused on Microsoft technologies, but on skills or technologies that can help a business owner improve their effectiveness.  It is clear that the store does not focus only on the retail / consumer customer.

Upon checking in with Kyle Killebrew, the Assistant Store Manager, I was assigned to shadow Larry Waggle for the day.  Larry did a great job explaining and showing things to me.  One of the first things Larry showed me was the skinning process.  I decided to create a skin for my original style XBOX 360 console.  The software is simple and easy to use.  The backend process is really the cool part.  It’s kinda hard to describe everything, but there I will do my best to provide an overview of some of the technology.  The first part is straight forward in that a very nice printer prints out the graphics on the sticker paper.  The program does print additional guide dots on all four corners of the long sheet that has the skins for all sides of the XBOX.  The “skin” is then put through a laminator to provide the glossy protective finish on the sticker.  Once the skin has been laminated, it is loaded into the cutter.  This is the real cool part (at least for me).  The software that drives the cutter, scans the entire skin with a laser looking for the special guide dots.  Once it figures out the exact layout in the cutting machine, the software initializes the special blade to cut the outline of the sticker without actually cutting through the backing paper on which the skin is stuck to.  Once the cutting is complete, the sheet is ready to take home and the stickers removed from the backing and applied to my XBOX 360.  When I applied the skin that night to my XBox console, I took a close look at the backing paper and could not see any cut marks.  To me, this is pretty impressive considering how thin the sticker itself is and the ability of the cutting machine to cut that close without making any marks on the backing paper.

Another great service the store offers is the service of a Personal Trainer.  The Personal Trainer spends an hour to educate you on a subject of your choice.  You can pay as you go for each session or sign up for a one-year membership.  There is a brochure in the store that explains the full details of this program and the benefits.  I know the program is VERY popular and the Personal Trainers are kept busy all day long.  I wish I had known about this service when the store first opened.  I would have gladly paid the money for a one-year membership for a few friends and family members to get the Personal Trainer to do the “edumacating” versus me.  Smile  I know this program has gone through a couple of revisions and I forgot to grab one of the brochures so I don’t want to give wrong information so I won’t try to list the details of it.  I just know it is a great program and think it’s great that the store offers this service.  If you want to learn more, go visit the store and ask about it.

The store also offers technical support services for PCs and laptops.  Once again, I don’t know the full extent of what is offered, but I did help out a few folks who came in with some technical issues.  One customer needed to transfer Outlook contacts and calendar items from an older laptop to a newer laptop.  This was a simple task for me, so I jumped in and got that taken care of for the customer.  I also helped answer a question certificates and how they work when visiting websites via HTTPS.  Another customer came in with an issue where the touchpad was not responding on the laptop.  They had purchased the laptop from the store less than a year ago (can’t remember the exact date).  I believe the issue was hardware related and the store replaced the laptop.  I will also add another disclaimer that I am not 100% sure what if this customer had purchased a protection package or not.

I also did my best to sell stuff while working (I don’t think I’m a good sales person though).  I found that I did better when I was answering technical questions about our products or sharing my personal experiences with the technology and how I used them in my own home versus trying to “sell” something.  The nice thing is that this is the way every employee in the store worked – no hard selling of anything.  I thought all the employees did a great job of demoing / showing the capabilities of the products and pointing out simple things that would benefit customers.  This includes simple things like applying Windows Updates on a regular basis to ensure the computers stay safe.

One very “odd” thing I noticed was the folks who came to the store to use the computers to surf, play games, watch movies, etc. for hours on end.  There was one particular man that came in around 9:30 AM and sat in front of a computer (playing) until about 4 PM (he did take a lunch break).  I asked the employees about this type of behavior and was told that it was quite common.  In fact, there were “regulars” who came in at certain times on certain days (or even every day) just to surf the web or play games.  Some even bring in their own DVD movies to watch.  Very weird if you ask me.

Overall, I had a great time interacting with the different customers who came in with questions or were just browsing and looking.  I also had a great time chatting with all the employees who were there that day.  There’s definitely a lot that goes on in the store than meets the eye.  I don’t think I have what it takes to be a full time employee at the store.  There definitely wasn’t any “spare” time for me to go and play games on the computers or a Kinect game on the XBox as there is always something to do. 

Harold Wong