Microsoft plans a splashy Long Island debut this week for its new retail store at Huntington Station's Walt Whitman mall, lining up free evening performances by music stars John Legend and Taio Cruz on Friday and the chance for customers to play Kinect with Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, who will be there on Saturday.
The tech giant has been rolling out retail stores across the country over the last several years to establish a longer-lasting relationship with customers, the Redmond, Wash.-based company has said.
Despite the rise of e-commerce on an array of mobile devices, the physical store remains a crucial part of retailers' strategies to remain competitive, said Alison Jatlow Levy, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon in Manhattan.
Customers who shop in multiple ways, including online and in-store, spend "a significant amount more" than those shopping in just one format, she said. Stores are a critical way for retailers to "interact with customers and really tell your story."
The Long Island store features a 94-inch screen for customers to play Xbox 360, a wraparound digital wall, and a theater with a 103-inch touch screen for training workshops and community events. Microsoft stores display a range of products, including Windows computers, Windows phones, Kinect for Xbox 360 and Office 2010.
A key element will be the technicians and sales associates offering training and help with products. Building a space where customers can hang out and try the products and find a destination for service is important to draw consumers buying electronics and software, Levy said.
Microsoft's grand opening will take place at 11 a.m. at Walt Whitman Shops, where the company will donate more than $1 million in software to local organizations that help youth. Fans can line up for the Legend and Cruz performances beginning at 2 p.m. by the northeast lot near the parking deck, and gates to the concert area open at 4 p.m. for a 6 p.m. show, mall officials said. For those who want to line up earlier, the mall has provided an outdoor area between Macy's and Saks on the east side of the mall beginning at 10 p.m. on Thursday.
The celebrity appearances continue on Saturday with Martin, who will be on hand at 2 p.m. to play Kinect with customers.
Opening with such big names will help Microsoft begin to extend its brand beyond its reputation as the company that makes office software products, Levy said.
"It has been losing top-of-mind awareness to customers, especially in the malls," she said. "They really need to shout their message and publicize that not only 'we're here,' but 'we're cool and we have cool superstars and music.' "