Hotel insights from Microsoft’s new standalone stores

Microsoft is planning to open its first international standalone store in a popular mall in my hometown of Toronto. This move is part of a much larger strategic vision that no doubt involves numerous store launches worldwide.

The tech giant is indeed warranted in this action, as it needs a physical outlet to properly demonstrate its latest hardware product, the Surface tablet; its handheld iPod competitor, the Dune; its gaming console, the Xbox; and its full line of software merchandise (Windows OS, Microsoft Office, etc.).

Microsoft’s plans follow a similar announcement by Samsung earlier this year. Samsung too will be launching its own line of standalone stores in major shopping centers. Both Microsoft and Samsung need only look at the rousing successes of Apple’s and Sony’s chic retail outlets to see the full potential of this move.

Overall, Microsoft’s goal is the same as the other hi-tech giants: reach consumers directly to reinforce brand image and heighten sales. Standalone locations enable potential customers to interact with the products, enhancing the buying experience. These retail outlets are staffed with knowledgeable professionals (e.g., Apple Geniuses) to make sure that each customer gets exactly what they want.

So, what can hotels glean from this? Think about how your brand is presented to your guests. Compare your points of differentiation as presented on an OTA versus your own website, or that of your parent chain.

Apple makes outstanding products. Apple Stores create that tactile, consumer buzz that drives fierce brand loyalty. I don’t believe Apple would be the number one publicly traded company in the world right now without establishing this relationship.

Simply put, it’s not just about the purchase, but the experience of the purchase. And how does the buying experience differ between the acquisition of a room directly from a hotel website and the acquisition of a room through an OTA? Given the tremendous efforts that you put into your site, I’ll wager there is a significant difference in terms of your product’s positioning.

True, the OTAs are a channel, and you have to go to where the consumers are. It’s all too easy to shrug your shoulders and just accept this fact. However, the purchase of an accommodation through an OTA does not bolster any hotel’s brand image; it bolsters the OTA’s.

You can continue living in the present, or you can start planning for the long-term future — one where your exceptional brand qualities are showcased across every consumer channel you operate in. If you believe in your brand, those channels where your property is commoditized are not the place you want to be.

Microsoft’s strategy is bold, but I believe it will pay off. I’m not suggesting that a hotel chain open its own retail outlets. Rather, it would be prudent to think of new ways to palpably augment the buying experience. How do you market your brand’s unique qualities across traditional and electronic mediums? What can you add to your website’s reservation software to ensure guests that they are making the right choice? More importantly, how will you convince potential guests to visit your website prior to going to an OTA?