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Best Buy + Windows Guru = Apple Store experience?

No, but at least it's a start, say experts

By Eric Lai
September 11, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - As part of Windows Vista's $300 million marketing rehab, Microsoft Corp. will hire an initial wave of 155 "Windows Gurus" to walk around Best Buy and Circuit City stores, answer customer questions and defend Vista's reputation against skeptics.

Microsoft will hire gurus in 26 cities in California, as well as cities in 11 other states.

Gurus will work full time, including weekends, need to be able to run how-to trainings and workshops, and answer customers' questions, according to the job description, which also notes that they'll need to "innovate, educate, inspire." In return, they will earn $20 an hour or more, plus benefits. (Interested applicants can go to www.msretaillive.com.)

Experts universally applauded the initiative, which has been under development for a year.

"After years of monopolistic behavior, Microsoft is finally recognizing the need for the softer things, dealing with customers in a higher-touch way," said Lisa Bradner, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "All of our research shows that customers want their hands held. They're tired of being dumped to a Web site where they have to look through some FAQs."

Gurus will also be able to help ensure that the demonstration PCs running Windows are running properly and that the in-store Vista displays are spiffed up, said Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

And they will fill in the product knowledge gap that often exists with sales staff at Best Buy and Circuit City stores.

"The good thing is that Microsoft will be able to get Windows explained appropriately on the sales floor. The bad thing is that it doesn't say much about the ability of the existing people on the sales floor," said George Whalin, an independent retail analyst. "Best Buy does a better job than Circuit City. But neither place does a great job."

Do better wages equal better gurus?

According to Whalin, $20 or more an hour is "almost assuredly more" than what the typical noncommissioned salesperson at Best Buy or Circuit City makes.

It's also a better wage on average than "Apple Geniuses," who provide tech support at Apple Stores. They make an average of $18.32 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com, with wages ranging from $14 to $25 an hour.

One reader at CNET, Elam, who claimed to have interviewed for a guru position, said that a starting position in Minnesota would pay between $21 and $25 an hour.

Experts point out that Windows Gurus are not new, and that many other high-tech vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard, Epson, Canon and even Apple and Microsoft, have had such "presales reps" in electronics stores for the past several years -- with positive, but not necessarily spectacular, results.



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