Apple Inc. (AAPL), Microsoft Corporation (MSFT): I Have This Problem

I recently went in search of a new desktop computer, and there are lessons that investors need to be aware of from this experience. I don’t consider myself to be an unusual customer, and if my experience is being replicated across the country, I’ve got some good news for a few companies, and some bad news for others.

I Have This Problem
Some people say I have a problem with technology. The issue is, I don’t ever seem to be satisfied with what I have. I don’t think it’s a problem, I think of it more like I’m constantly searching for a better solution. If you ask my friends…well…just don’t ask them  what they think.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)

I was a PC user for about 10 years and never wanted a Mac. However, when Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) came out with the first iPod, I was intrigued. I bought an iPod, and found very quickly that Apple designed their devices to work better with a Mac. Not long after, I bought a Macbook, and was so satisfied, that for the next 10 years I basically ignored the PC universe. At work I was forced to use Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows, but for all other interactions, I was on a Mac.

For the last several months, I used a Macbook Air connected to an external monitor. I liked this set up, but ever since Windows 8 came out, I’ve been curious about the product. I guess it’s my contrary nature, but I tend to disbelieve much of what is reported about new technology.

What I really liked was the idea that Windows 8 was built to work on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. As much as I love Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) products, the company has kept iOS and Mac OSX apart. I read up on Windows 8, went to Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) several times to play around with the desktop and laptops, and looked at some models online.

So What Happened?
The first investing lesson is, Windows 8 isn’t as bad as has been reported. Ironically, the best sales tactic for Windows 8 machines, was employed by Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP). Since Office Depot and Best Buy are in the same strip mall, I looked at each for my new computer. What was really ironic is, as much as Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) touts the knowledge of their associates, Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP)’s smartest associate was a piece of paper.

Next to each laptop in the store, was a piece of paper with pictures explaining some of the common actions on a Windows 8 machine. With this piece of paper in hand, I learned more about Windows 8 in ten seconds, then I would have asking an associate at another store. While Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP)’s use of a simple piece of paper was a stroke of genius, it’s a good thing, because the company’s sales associates were a different story.

This brings us to investing lesson number two. If you are going to buy stock in a retailer, check out the store to see how smart and friendly their employees are. I asked an Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP) associate a few questions, and not only did he act annoyed to be asked, but I found out later, that most of his answers were wrong.

Ironically, when I was at Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY), I actually heard an associate say, “Oh I don’t know, we pretty much just get the specs on the computer, if it’s not on the sheet we don’t really know.” Let’s just say this wasn’t a banner day for customer service at either company. It’s not a surprise that analysts expect both companies to have challenges growing their sales over the next few years.