Retail

Retail Pulse: Microsoft To Open London Flagship; Walmart Hires Tech Exec

Retail Pulse: Microsoft To Open London Flagship

Technology companies are opening brick-and-mortar stores to let customers try out their products in real life. Microsoft, for instance, plans to open a flagship London store in mid-July. The three-story, 21,932-square-foot location is set to be located on Oxford Circus, adding to Microsoft’s existing physical store footprint.

In the space, consumers can experience technology, services and products from Microsoft and from the company’s partners. The store will feature “interactive zones” along with immersive video walls that “will make this the best place to get hands-on with Surface, Windows, Office, Xbox and PC gaming, HoloLens mixed-reality and more,” the company said in an announcement. The flagship was designed to build connections with customers, businesses and the local community.

Microsoft Store Corporate Vice President David Porter said in the announcement, “A flagship store in London has long been part of our vision for our physical and digital store presence. This opening represents another step in our journey to meet our customers – from consumers to businesses – wherever they are, and deepen our connection with them. London is one of the world’s most exciting shopping destinations, and we look forward to empowering customers to explore all that is possible with Microsoft.”

The company also noted that the store will have space for tech, coding and STEM learning, and will offer programs as well as workshops for consumers. It says that “customers of all ages and abilities will be able to learn and develop their digital skills.” The store will also be home to the Answer Desk, a dedicated area for customers to get tech support, repairs and training, as well as advice on the company’s products and services.

The London location joins the roster of Microsoft flagships in New York and Sydney, along with stores in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, as well as online in more than 190 countries. In the U.K., the company has a roster of facilities like the Reactor London startup hub, three gaming studios and the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge.

Microsoft UK CEO Cindy Rose said in the announcement, “This new flagship store builds upon Microsoft’s significant track record of investment in the U.K. More importantly, located in the heart of central London, it will serve as a vibrant hub – for both visitors to our great city as well as a variety of different local communities – to come and play, learn, create and discover.”

By leveraging spaces for repairs, support and experiences, tech companies are expanding their brick-and-mortar footprints with flagship stores in big cities.

In Other Brick-and-Mortar News 

Burger King locations in a St. Louis test market reportedly saw foot traffic that exceeded the national average by 18.5 percent in April after the pilot test rollout of a Whopper made with the vegetarian-friendly Impossible Burger. The data came from inMarket inSights, which examined March location data before the April pilot.

City locations in the U.S. brought in 16.75 percent higher foot traffic in April compared to the average in the month before. The rollout came as the chain said at the beginning of April that it was testing a vegetarian-friendly Whopper version. The brand has said it would roll out the burger later in the year nationwide.

In other news, Walmart has brought on Suresh Kumar as its new chief technology officer and chief development officer. Kumar will replace Jeremy King, who left in March to work at Pinterest, and will report directly to CEO Doug McMillon. Kumar worked at Google as a VP and as general manager of video, display and analytics.

Kumar served as a corporate vice president of cloud infrastructure and operations at Microsoft; he also worked at Amazon for 15 years in various senior positions. The hire comes as Walmart is trying to position itself as more than just a grocery chain with low prices. The retailer is going head to head with Amazon in numerous channels, including logistics, eCommerce and others, as it seeks to be viewed as more of a technology company.

And Coresight Research found that more than 7,150 store closures have been announced by U.S. retailers so far in 2019, compared to the 5,524 store closures for all of last year. In 2017, however, there was an all-time record of 8,139 closures. Coresight also noted that there have been only 2,726 store openings this year.

To keep tabs on the latest retail trends, check next week’s Retail Pulse.

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