It's not black or white 3/24/2013 5:32:00 PM

I saw an advertisement that the Microsoft Store at Austin's Domain Mall was running a "SmartPhone buyback" program through the month of March, so I figured I'd stop  by and see what I could get for my old WP7 LG Quantum and Jane's old Samsung Focus. I didn't have a great experience last time I was at the store, so I was curious to see whether it has improved over the last few months.

On Sunday afternoon around 4pm, Jane and I walked in and looked around.  The tables were nicely organized in the front of the store although it inexplicably smelled a bit funky. Within 30 seconds, we were greeted by a 20-something guy who asked how he could help us. I explained what brought us in and he seemed excited to help out. So far so good. We walked to the back of the store where the big desk is (Microsoft apparently decided they shouldn't have traditional cash registers since the Apple store doesn't).

Unfortunately, there's no obvious place for customers and staff to stand, a problem exacerbated by the fact that a customer was getting his new Dell All-in-One set up by a staff-member, and his 4ft by 3ft by 1ft cardboard box and the associated packing material were littered around.

Our sales guy rummaged around under the desk for a solid 90 seconds before finally pulling out a laptop, clearing some space on the edge of the desk, and putting down a leather pad underneath the system. Finally, he fired it up. Windows 7. Interesting. He chose one of the 5 logged in accounts and typed a password. On the desktop, he found the IE icon and clicked on it. IE8 appeared. The first-run wizard appeared. He considered for a moment, then clicked "Ask me later." He then tried to navigate to http://storeportal or some similar address. "Page cannot be displayed." Hrm. He clicked in the tray to check the WiFi, which claimed to be connected to MSFTINET. Hrm.

He clicked IE's "Diagnose connection settings" and waited for it to do its thing. Eventually, the web page appeared. He worked through some cumbersome login process, then opened Word 2013, opened a document, scrolled to the bottom, and copied a URL, username, and password individually from the document into the browser. He spent a minute trying to find the model number for my phone and after I took it apart and read it off to him, he got the buyback offer. $8.90 without the charger, and $9.90 with it. I decided that for under $10, I'd just keep it as a backup.

Jane's Focus netted an offer of just under $20, and considering her love for her iPhone, we agreed to take the offer.

He tried to print a document, but didn't have a printer installed. We waited for him to browse around the network (going through yet another "Troubleshoot connection problems" sequence, then ask a colleague which printer to use, then install the drivers, and finally start the print job.

IE8 locked up at this point and he clicked around fruitlessly for 30 seconds ("ding ding ding") and walked to the printer and back a few times. He apologized for the hassle and noted "this is an original i7 which is six years old and I don't know why we use it anymore." (Note: The first i7s were released Nov. 2008). He then said "Sorry if I seem frazzled. There are only 7 of us in the store today and there are supposed to be 15. I don't know where everyone else is." Considering the relative dearth of customers, the store didn't really seem understaffed to me.

Finally, Windows offered "Your job has been sent to the printer" and he walked off to get the document, which turned out to be a signature form whereby you promise that you're not selling a stolen phone, etc.

I looked at the large LCD signature pad on the counter and idly wondered what it was used for, if not tasks like this. After agreeing to the terms and conditions, we got a shiny plastic gift card to use on our next purchase.

On our way out, I stopped to check out the Surface Pro with the Type keyboard. It was warm to the touch but otherwise looked like a great machine, and I played with it a bit. Across the table, a sales guy was pitching the Surface RT to a 40-something woman. "But this won't run my software, right?" she said. "No," he conceded, "but you can install apps, like Facebook." She seemed unconvinced.

I didn't envy him-- the sales guys at the Apple Store have a much easier job, asking their salivating prospects simply "Do you want black or white?"

As a former employee, I'm depressed. As a shareholder, I'm angry.

+ Comment
Steve @ There's a Microsoft Store opening up in the mall near me too. I'm curious how it will compare/compete with the Apple store less than 250 feet away. If the staff were trained better, they'd be able to sell the features of Windows tablets/devices and deflect honestly (& provide a balanced counter feature) any omissions. It's sad that the windows phone didn't provide much in return but I'd like to believe that Microsoft could do a better deal providing $50-100 discount towards a new windows phone? I've gotta ask though... as someone that knows networking and IE so intimately it must kill you to hold back and not just grab the PC and try to fix the issue... kudos for not taking over.

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