LOS ANGELES – It looks like an Apple Store, filled with eager employees in brightly colored T-shirts. Laptops, smart phones and MP3 players are arrayed on modern tables for anyone who wants to try them out. There’s even a desk where people can walk up and get expert technical help.

But the similarities between the Apple Store and the Microsoft Store begin to fade at the cash register — or at least they did one recent Saturday afternoon at a mall in Mission Viejo, Calif. Over a half-hour period, 19 people walked out of the mall’s Apple Store carrying purchases in one of the company’s signature white bags.

By comparison, just three walked out of the nearby Microsoft Store with merchandise. The survey may not have been scientific, but it reflects what analysts say is the challenge Microsoft Corp. faces in taking on Apple Inc. in America’s shopping centers.

“The Microsoft Stores, it seems so far, lack the same cool factor as the Apple Stores,” said Phil Baker, an independent technology analyst and consultant in Solana Beach, Calif. “It’s not entirely clear as to what the goal of the Microsoft Stores is, but it doesn’t seem to be as much about sales as it is about building the brand.”

Some shoppers are also scratching their heads. John Smits of San Clemente, Calif., bought a laptop at the Mission Viejo store, lured by a discount he found out about on Facebook. But he said the Microsoft Store lacked the exclusivity that draws consumers to the Apple Store.

“Everything sold here can be bought somewhere else, likely for a lower price,” Smits said. “There is no exclusive product here to pull me in. But at the Apple Store, there’s all kinds of stuff I can’t get anywhere else.”

Microsoft turned down requests to talk about the stores and its long-term retail plans. When its first stores opened last year, retailing Vice President David Porter said the aim was to “showcase what’s possible with the full Microsoft brand.”

“Our customers have told us they want choice, better value and great service when shopping for technology, and that is what we will deliver through our Microsoft Stores,” Porter said.

There was no mention of Apple, which has steadily gained market share since opening its first two stores (in McLean, Va., and Glendale, Calif.) in 2001. The Cupertino, Calif., company is now a retailing juggernaut, with more than 300 stores worldwide that generated an estimated $3.57 billion in revenue last year.

Microsoft’s retail presence is still tiny by comparison, with seven stores opened in the past year.

John Jackson, an analyst at CCS Insight, said the company might be trying to heighten its image with consumers. “When you walk into an Apple Store, you’re walking into an Apple world, an Apple lifestyle, and you see how everything they do can fit into what you do in your life,” Jackson said.

“Microsoft has never had that, until they opened their own stores,” he said. “I think one of the overarching objectives for the stores is an ‘aha factor’ that ‘yeah, Microsoft does deliver all this stuff.’“