This week, Microsoft launched a global retail function to simplify the laptop-buying process for consumers. The service, called Microsoft Synchronized Shopping, is being piloted in Singapore at the Harvey Norman Millenia Walk flagship store.
This is how it works: Consumers answer a series of questions to identify their laptop needs on the Harvey Norman website, and are then recommended devices that match their needs. The shortlisted device creates a shopper pass on the consumer’s mobile wallet and embeds a geo-location service within. When the consumer is in proximity of the store, they get a phone notification and will be guided to their PC of choice.
“There are these long tables [in-store] with laptops that are so uninteresting and that didn’t create any sort of emotional connection to what you were touching and feeling," Ami Silverman, corporate VP, worldwide sales, consumer and device sales, Microsoft, told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "So how do we create an in-store experience that did not look like rows and rows of computers one after another?"
The company took learnings from online search habits over three years to narrow down the initial research process online. “Over 76% of people start their PC shopping online. And the reason they do that is so they don’t feel like they don’t know anything walking into a store because it can be very overwhelming and they get confused when someone’s talking about RAM or processors,” said Silverman.
In a retail store, consumers are looking at an average of 52 laptops on display, which sometimes leads to ‘choice paralysis’, said Silverman.
However, the synchronised shopping function still leads consumers to a physical retail store as a final step in the journey, rather than encouraging them to purchase their chosen device online. The reason for this, according to Silverman, is that consumers still want to touch and feel their devices, especially where the weight and lightness of a laptop are crucial purchasing factors.
“I've been in the hardware space for 15 years, and no matter where I’ve been or what the situation is, people like to touch and feel something that is physical. If it's something that I'm going to have, and my hands are going to be on it every single day, there is still a desire for that,” she said.
Will the service be rolled out across electronics at Harvey Norman? According to Katie Page, CEO of Harvey Norman, the store will first wait for feedback on the Microsoft experience. “One-step-at-a-time learning is important,” she said.
So does it really work?
I tested the synchronised shopping function at Harvey Norman’s Millenia Walk flagship store. It began with clicking a banner on the store’s website and answering a bunch of basic questions about my laptop needs. The conversational AI product chose the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 as an ideal product for me. So far, so good.
The online banner in question on Harvey Norman's website