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Microsoft tried to clone the Apple Store. It still hasn't worked.

Pretty, but also pretty empty.

Microsoft general manager Kelly Soligon speaking at the company's store in San Francisco.
General manager Kelly Soligon sees Microsoft's retail stores as the physical manifestation of the company's brand and key to its future growth.
Ina Fried for Recode

Microsoft's stores have a warm decor, plenty of helpful staffers and an array of PCs, phones and devices. They could use a few more customers, though.

It's hard to know exactly how the stores are doing since Microsoft won't comment on either sales or traffic figures. It is fair to say, though, that it is not uncommon to visit stores in which workers outnumber customers.

In San Francisco, even the tiny Amazon kiosk a floor below often has more customers than the far larger Microsoft store.

"Are we pleased with our traffic? Yeah," Microsoft retail general manager Kelly Soligon said in an interview at the company's downtown San Francisco location. "Do we always want more? Yes."

Microsoft's won't say how many people visit its stores, but It's not uncommon to see workers outnumber customers at the San Francisco location.
Ina Fried for Recode

Microsoft began its retail effort with a handful of stores in 2009 and now has more than 100 locations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a newly-opened outlet in Sydney, Australia. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from the 22,000-square-foot New York flagship, to standard locations of around 3,000 square feet, to small stores and kiosks that occupy as few as 150 square feet.

Inevitably, with their theaters and genius bars (or Answer Desks, as Microsoft calls their help spots), the stores draw comparisons to Apple's retail effort, which began six years earlier.

Microsoft doesn't shy away from the comparison, but resists the notion that it is a mere copycat.

Apple stores, for example, don't have the giant video walls that are found in each Microsoft store, nor of course the Xbox to play on.

Like Apple, the stores are a mix of hardware, software and accessories with plenty of devices to try and a spot to ask technical questions.

And, because the stores are rarely super-crowded, it's actually easier to get some 1:1 time.

While stressing the stores are there to sell products, Soligon said they are also there to showcase Microsoft and all its endeavors.

"We really think of ourselves as the physical manifestation of brand," she said.

That said, Microsoft does want its retail efforts to pay off — a goal that would be easier to reach if more people came through the doors.

Soligon said the company is bringing new technology into stores — from early release Xbox games to virtual reality headsets like HTC's Vive and Microsoft's own HoloLens.

The flagship store in New York is showing off Microsoft's HoloLens, while HTC's Vive headset (which requires a PC) is on display at around 30 stores.

"There’s a line all the time," said Soligon.

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