Microsoft Band Retail Channel Suffers from Windows Phone-itis?

Microsoft Band Retail Channel Suffers from Windows Phone-itis?

To me, the Microsoft Band is an awesome fitness tracking wearable. I'll be honest and say that it's not the most glamourous device. It's utilitarian, black, and it's bulky until you get used to it. My oldest daughter wants a fitness wearable that is a bit more fashionable, has some splash of color and looks good with formal attire. But, once I took her through a feature-by-feature comparison of the other wearables on her short list the Band's value won her over.

I've needed a new Band for a couple weeks. Unlike others I've seen my Band is not worn despite wearing it constantly for the last 6 months. No, I just needed a smaller size. Due to my increased running since the weather turned warm, my wrist size has diminished. I originally selected a medium, but over the last couple weeks, shedding water weight due to the humidity, the medium-sized Band became extra loose on my wrist and became a bit annoying. I guess you could say that the Band has done its job. The ultimate goal of any wearable touted as fitness device should be to make positive changes in your body. Microsoft would do well to offer special promotions that if you have to step down in Band size, you get a special price break or something.

So, when I couldn't stand the Band jostling anymore I finally decided to take the plunge and get a small-sized Band. And, my medium Band wouldn't go to waste. My wife has been jealously eyeing my Microsoft Band for some time.

I checked the Microsoft Store online first and saw that delivery time is 3-7 days for standard shipping. I have a trip coming up next week and wanted to make sure the Band arrived in time. So, I checked one of the Band's approved retail channels, Best Buy. We have a couple Best Buy locations within a relatively short driving distance. I checked availability and the web site said that both stores had stock.  I called the first to verify, and while they also confirmed they were showing stock in-store, they couldn't find them. I called the second store, and they, too, confirmed stock but this time told me to come on down and pick one up.

Best Buy is a gadget geek's candy store, so when I arrived I decided to inspect all the assorted goodies in each aisle first to see if anything might hit my wish list before putting my hands on the actual Band. After 20 minutes or so, I decided to go hunting for the Band display. After about 10 minutes of uncompromising aisle surfing, encompassing the entire store, I thought I may have just missed it, so I searched again. It took another 10 minutes before I gave up. I could find no showcase display anywhere in the store. This particular Best Buy has a "wearables" aisle, but the Band was nowhere to be found. The aisle was littered with Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit, and Pebble devices, but no hint of a Microsoft product. There was even a special section for Apple Watch accessories front-and-center, despite Best Buy not being authorized to sell Apple's newest wristlet.

To the average shopper the Microsoft Band simply does not exist at this Best Buy location, and from my earlier phone conversation it apparently doesn’t exist at my other local Best Buy location, either. Imagine, as a normal consumer, stopping in at Best Buy looking for a fitness device. If all you see is what's on display then that's what you'll choose from. You'll consider that that's all there is.

But, it gets worse.

I still thought I might have just missed the Microsoft Band display somehow but swallowed my pride and asked an attending sales clerk for directions to it.

His response? "Hm. I've never heard of a Microsoft Band."

I showed him my smartphone screen to prove that Best Buy did indeed carry them, and that the web site reported that his store had them in stock. He copied the SKU number from my smartphone screen into his sales terminal to confirm that the web site was correct and that there were Microsoft Band's somewhere in the store. And, after a couple walkie-talkie conversations with others in his in-store sales network, he determined that he would have to check the warehouse himself. I followed and watched as he disappeared into the sacred employees only area of the store, beyond the massive swinging doors. After about 10 minutes he emerged and told me that they had 3 mediums and 3 large Microsoft Bands in stock, but that it would take him a while to find them in the warehouse.

I needed a small.

I double-checked the web site on my smartphone and showed him where it clearly stated that there were small-sized Bands listed in stock, too. He frowned for a second and then asked me to wait while he checked a drawer back in the front of the store. 5 minutes later he returned with my new Microsoft Band.

Last year I went into a composed tirade about how I blame cellular carriers for the small Windows Phone market share (read: HERE and HERE). I'm not alone in thinking that. Many have experienced the same situations as I have where you have to explicitly ask for a Windows Phone when you visit a carrier store. Windows Phones are not on display anywhere. The devices sit on shelves in the backroom, gathering dust. Just like the Microsoft Band at Best Buy, to the normal shopper Windows Phone just doesn’t exist, either. Salespeople at carrier stores have said, "No one wants them, no one is buying and they don't have any apps."

Microsoft Band? "Hm. I've never heard of that…"

Microsoft definitely has a retail channel problem. But, whose fault is it? Can you blame a retail conglomerate for wanting to promote the most popular items of the day? When you look at the cleverly created showcase displays you have to wonder if the company is getting some sort of kickback from the manufacturer. Samsung is front-and-center and in the Best Buy I visited, there's an entire Samsung showcase area. In 2013, Microsoft worked a deal where 1,500 square feet to 2,200 square feet would be set aside in each Best Buy location as a special, onsite Windows Store. Additionally, each store-within-a-store would to be staffed with Best Buy Microsoft-trained sales associates, numbering 1,200 across the US. According to the Best Buy web site, these are supposed to still exist – but they don't. I used the site to locate a "Windows Store" in my area and the store I just visited is listed. However, like the Microsoft Band it just doesn't exist.

The Microsoft Band is a fantastic device, in my opinion. Unfortunately, if it were up to Best Buy, I may be the only one that will ever know.

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