Following last week’s revelation that Microsoft plans to call Apple out on the high street with its own chain of retail shops near Apple’s own comes yet more news claiming Redmond’s hired in a little former-Cupertino talent to help it make its pitch.

Those revered Apple-watchers at IFO AppleStore have the skinny, claiming, “A key figure in achieving Apple’s ground-breaking retail store concept is now consulting with Microsoft on that company’s retail stores.”

As the story goes, twenty-year veteran ex-Gap VP of real estate strategy George W. Blankenship has jumped ship from Apple, where he has been since 2000, in order to help the Windows maker open high street doors.

At Apple, Blankenship helped Apple’s senior VP retail, Ron Johnson, in placing stores at those really good high-traffic locations thought partially responsible for Apple’s success.

He joined another firm, Vectiv Corporation, a provider of store lifecycle management enterprise software, as Senior Advisor in 2002. At that time he said, "I personally witnessed the benefits of using technology to maximize store procurement at Gap.Vectiv has developed a solution that is more flexible, more robust, and provides a much lower total cost of ownership than the one we built.

"Due to overall costs and implementation time, outsourcing the management of this technology is a better decision than building it in-house.Make no mistake, retailers must leverage technology and have a clearly defined strategy with an efficient opening process in order to succeed in today’s retail market." Erm, OK…

Let’s not mention the other part of Apple’s success, the products. That would be too much. Microsoft has products, too – if you like music it even has the Zune.

What Microsoft’s new “consultant” has of course is deep knowledge of how Apple’s Johnson ticks. “Blankenship was among the earliest of Apple’s retail store employees, arriving shortly after Johnson. He was there when Johnson began to clarify his vision of how the stores would operate and what they would look like, and where they should be located,” IFO AppleStore explains.

Johnson has previously said for the stores to work they need to be placed where customers “live their life”. In other words, where they worlk, shop, live and play, the report observes.

One key element to this high street test – Laptop Hunter ad or no Laptop Hunter ad – is success. And we have a hunch that while Microsoft’s investors allow the company to throw money at problems, it’s the Apple investors who’ll come out tops, as the company continues to make strategic, well-aimed investments in products, software development and store locations.

Will Microsoft’s stores end up being another of its heavily subsidised marketing ploys? And can even that company sustain the cost of only partially successful shops on some of the world’s most expensive shopping streets?

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