Vendor focus

Microsoft revamps retail and consumer focus

A new consumer focussed group is being created to enhance excitement across the portfolio

An exciting moment at DCC 2011, was the announcement of Microsoft’s Consumer Channel Group (CCG), still under formation but in all probability ready to operate from July 2011. Amongst its immediate objectives: to create more touch points with consumers, better communication of what can be done with Microsoft devices and to elevate the experience to a “cool” level.

Looking further into the details, the formation of the CCG is not expected to change the product distribution structure to the retail or super retail segments. But it’s expected to work aggressively towards integrating Microsoft’s portfolio of disparate products into a more unified whole with improved consumer experience and appeal.

The four product segments included as part of the CCG are: gaming consoles including Xbox and Kinect; experience accessories like keyboard, mice, headsets, webcam; finished packaged products like Office and Windows; and Windows Phone.

Working on the Microsoft consumer experience, Ghassan El Hout, sales manager for entertainment and devices

“The idea is not to increase any category over the other. It’s all about how we create excitement around our Windows platform”, says Ghassan El Hout, sales manager for entertainment and devices, Microsoft Gulf.

On the engagement side, the CCG is expected to improve cooperation with OEM partners, telecom companies, power retailers and work with them towards creating “excitement”. “We are partnering with all OEMS and we stand at an equal distance from them. But we want the consumers to be picking the right choice”, says El Hout.

Microsoft’s immediate revamp of its approach to the consumer segment can also be explained by what is happening in the retail segment. Ask any retail major and the conclusion is the same. The whole consumer IT landscape is changing—-smart phones have exploded and today you find a second smart phone in the hands of the consumer. With high product refresh rates from many brands, consumers are finding it hard not to walk into retail outlets and experience the product. Add to that the strong need to be connected across social media sites with the number of new applications to support this and the pull becomes very strong.

“If you ask a consumer why they have bought a tablet, most of them don’t have a very strong answer”, says Jacky’s CEO, Ashish Panjabi. “A lot of the footfalls in the retail outlets are about self-justification”. Consumers know the product has a utility but often find it difficult to justify to themselves why they should buy it. The need to be convinced varies from consumer to consumer.

Today almost all consumer devices are accessing applications and information through the public cloud in some way–whether it is a tablet, slate, windows phone, iPhone or iPad and so on. The CCG intends to convince this community of users that, “the Windows platform is a cool platform, it’s beneficial to use it, and it complements the total device ownership which they already have”.

“It’s also to change the way people purchase a PC—-from a DOS based machine at a rock bottom price deal—towards a solution and need fulfiller”, reflects El Hout.

On the product distribution side, Microsoft Gulf is using ITE and Logicom for its Windows and Office applications. For its gaming range it is using distributors Al Futtaim Electronics and Pluto Games. The channel community includes around 90 retailers and 400 retail partners across five GCC countries: UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.

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Update on Windows Phone

More than 17,000 applications have been developed for this device since Windows Phone was announced. At a recent briefing the vendor announced the availability of Mango, a smartphone developer tool to help build better internet connectivity applications. This is expected to allow easier switching between applications and connections on a smartphone.

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