Microsoft in the mall? Retail store plans leak

Apes Apple's Genius Bar, but may have to tackle problems from all PC brands

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Microsoft today confirmed that plans for its upcoming retail stores, which leaked to a popular gadget site, are legitimate. But it said that the design concepts are not necessarily the final word on what's coming.

One expert called the plans "too techie," but applauded Microsoft for tackling retail.

Late Friday, Gizmodo posted more than four dozen slides from a July 7 PowerPoint presentation created by New York-based Lippicott, a self-styled "design and brand strategy" consultant firm. Lippicott's consumer retail clients include Borders, Dairy Queen, Intuit and Keebler.

The 54 posted images, part of a 140-slide collection, detailed everything from store layout ideas and a shopping bag design to Microsoft's answer to Apple's Genius Bar and a wrap-around digital display wall.

Today, Microsoft acknowledged it had hired Lippicott, but downplayed the significance of the plans. "As a part of our process in briefing creative agencies, we shared some early prototypes and concepts of our retail store plans," said Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw in a Monday e-mail. No final decisions have been made. As we previously announced, we are on track to open retail stores this Fall."

Microsoft first announced in February that it would push into Apple's turf by creating retail stores under its own brand. Microsoft hired a former DreamWorks executive, David Porter, to head the effort.

Earlier this month, Kevin Turner, Microsoft's chief operating officer -- formerly with discount giant Wal-Mart -- promised that some of his company's stores would be located "right next door to Apple stores" later this year.

Within the slides leaked to Gizmodo were several that detailed the strengths of rival brands' retail stores, including Apple's, AT&T's and Sony's.

Stephen Baker, a retail analyst with the NPD Group, gave Microsoft's plans a mixed review. "I'm of two minds," said Baker. "Clearly, Microsoft is trying to incorporate all the areas that they have a play in, and create an ambiance, but I miss where it all ties together. It's a little too techie, [what] with the video walls."

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