apple store nyc 5th aveApple keeps the retail experience simple by removing distractions.Mark Matousek / Business Insider

  • Apple‘s and Microsoft‘s flagship New York City stores are less than half of a mile away from each other.
  • Apple’s design instincts and a product strategy that emphasizes items that look similar and are easy to use made for a better retail experience.
  • But Microsoft’s store had flashier products to test, including virtual-reality headsets.

Apple has been the gold standard for retail since it ignored conventional wisdom and opened its first store in 2001. Since then, other companies have tried to match its first-class customer service and design instincts.

While Microsoft made its fortune on software, including Windows and Office, its expansion into hardware products like the Xbox and Surface tablets and laptops made the idea of a retail store a more realistic possibility. The company opened its first in 2009.

In January, I visited each company’s flagship store on New York City’s Fifth Avenue to see which offered the better retail experience.

Here’s what I saw: