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The Microsoft Stores are put on hold

Recent reports have suggested that the almighty powerful Steve Ballmer has shelved plans to build a staggering 300 Microsoft stores to compete with Apple. While this is probably a good move as they’re still building on WP7’s early days, the question should be put forward to them, do they need the stores? More importantly, do we need them?

Since announcing the new retail plan back in 2009, Microsoft has opened only eight stores, and recently announced plans for a further two to be located in Atlanta and Seattle. Not such a great push some were expecting/hoping. Where’s our London store, Mr. Ballmer?

But let’s forget statistics for a minute, and hop into the time machine to return to the question I asked in the opening of this article, do both Microsoft and their customers need the stores? Yes and no. Yes for improving the company’s image and ensuring there’s some sort of customer satisfaction when purchasing their products, namely WP7, Xbox 360, Office, Windows and possibly subscriptions to the Zune service. No because they don’t really have a large number of physical products like Apple does. HP, Acer, Sony, ASUS, Dell - just to name a few - all build devices that run Windows software. Not only that, Microsoft depends on retailers to make the sells such as online sites like Amazon and Best Buy, as well as PC World and other physical retail chains.

Deploying a large number of stores featuring Microsoft’s products (and services) as well as displaying flagship desktop and laptop devices could in-turn have a negative impact for retailers already stocking. What’s more is Microsoft’s main products are software (Windows OS and Office) and while demonstrations, tutorials and support could be offered in-store, you could only populate limited shelving with boxes of Windows 7. On the other hand, seeing (and walking into) a Microsoft store must be awesome.

What could they do to counteract the negative ‘no’ above? By having demonstrations as to how their products can be used, in the house more than anywhere. A lounge area featuring a HD TV, Xbox 360 (with Kinect), WHS (home server), Windows 7, Zune etc. and allow potential customers use the products as they would at home. Another idea would be to produce their own machines, like Apple. Any PC savvy enthusiast will more than likely build their own machine, whereas an OS X user (like myself) loves the product design, both hardware and software that Apple provides. I don’t want a HP, Acer, Samsung, ASUS or Dell, I wouldn’t mind owning a true Microsoft laptop though. Same with WP7 in a sense.

Microsoft’s product line seems slightly fragmented when looking at what they have to offer customers in comparison to their main competitor. While it could be relatively easy to get the products defragmented and presentable as Microsoft alone, it could bring severe consequences for manufacturers. C’mon Microsoft, enough dancing to Black Eyed Peas, sort yourselves out corporately with where the company is going to be heading.

What do you think about the stores, and do you believe Microsoft could populate them enough to drive attention from Apple?

Source: Techradar (opens in new tab)

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

16 Comments
  • I visited the Windows store in Oakbrook, IL (just outside of Chicago) and have to say that I really enjoyed it. It's a clean, modern store with plenty of helpful people, each seemingly specialized in an area (Xbox 360, Zune, Laptops, Windows Phone 7)... it's a much more friendly, warm, and comfortable experience than the Apple Store just a few stores away.However, the place is easily overlooked! The marquee of the store is the "new" Microsoft logo, which isn't as recognizable as the Apple logo, of course. They really need to show that this is a tech store, by Microsoft, with quality products for much less than their competitor, even before the customer enters the store.That being said, I really enjoyed the place. It was fun to see and play with early Windows Phone 7 devices (which eventually inspired me to get one with Sprint) and try out Kinect on an awesomely huge screen. There are a lot of great products and ideas in the store, and as soon as the form a more coherent identity and philosophy and open more stores, I'm sure they'll be a hit.
  • I think MS would be wise to stock their stores with high end versions of products that run on Windows. For example, Samsung's new Series 9 laptops. Those things are beautiful and the specs easily compare to a MacBook Pro. I bet Samsung would love having a retail outlet for their high end products as I'm sure Best Buy doesn't always cut it. Or MS could open up the Zune software to other manufacturers and sell various styles of Zune players in their stores. They could even toss in a few Window tablets for the heck of it. Stocking their shelves with only the best would eventually make shoppers believe that MS stores only sells the best. I know selling hardware from other vendors isn't what MS wants to do, but they also don't have enough unique products to warrant opening another 300 stores either.
  • I absolutely agree. While the ultimate focus should be on xbox, WP7, and well.. zune should be on this list, they could also highlight win7 and specific win 7 PCs, a signature series if you will, which is kind of what they have online (I haven't been to the stores), but making the signature series something very special, any manufacturer should be able to put their devices in, but only the best of the best, something with unique features getting more promo, and sell them optimized.The whole setting up a home network to show how all these platforms synergize is another great idea too. and workshops on how to setup your own media streaming network at home etc.
  • I also visited the Oakbrook store and I loved it. I understand they might not want to open 300+ stores at once but I hope expansion continues. Even if they don't make that much money on their own, they can be a huge boost to their obvious image problem. However, that won't happen unless there is a critical mass of stores open.
  • Could do with some in the UK, would be a better option for getting a PC than PC World just as it would be a more focused store, plus having support in stores and even set up and demonstrations would be nicer, and pushing Zune hardware to other countries must be done.
  • It's not like they're going to stop opening them, all they're doing is slowing it down for now. Ballmer wanted to make as many as fast as possible but it doesn't seem like a good idea atm.That said, yes they should build more, and advertise more. Apples growth has been due to it's stores more than anything if you ask me.
  • I strongly support Microsoft building more stores. First, both the on-line and physical stores demonstrate cutting edge stuff and products in limited release (exopc, Asus 121 right now for example), as well as the higher end of their OEM's units. Second, the physical stores have staff on hand (and lots of it) that actually knows how to use the products. Third, all of the computers they sell offer the Microsoft Signature feature which tunes the computer and deletes all OEM crapware. Fourth, the stores offer training and advice. Fifth, the physical stores allow Microsoft to demonstrate technology and get consumer feedback. There were two Surface computers at the store I recently visited for example. Sixth, the stores offer one place to see all of Microsoft's products from Windows Phone devices (sadly, not unlocked devices) to every Xbox game. I also think it is wise to locate near Apple Stores. There is a reason Target is usually near Wal-Mart and Lowes near Home Depot. Competitors benefit from the proximity of one another. Consumers do too. The stores offer Microsoft an effective way to test and gauge consumer response to their products. Because Microsoft products are sold in other stores, I don't think they need to or should match Apple store for store. I do think they need to have a store in each large metropolitan area of the US, Canada and the UK and other important markets over time.
  • I think it's pretty lame when MS builds stores. They sell what? Other people's laptops and desktops? They may have people who specialize in laptops, but a MS employee using a Sony laptop? Really?
  • It was only a matter of time...They didn't quite copy enough of the Apple business model for things to work out. Most importantly, they need their own line of built-like-a-tank-and-just-works tech products as well as the in-store replacement or repair part of Apple. This, along with the enormous choice of 3rd party hardware would've differentiated Microsoft in a good way.The bits and pieces of Apple they did implement aren't enough to keep them afloat.While the rest of the world counts the minutes until their iPad-2's fly out of China-Fedex -- MS wonders what to do with their retail concept...
  • I'm with more stores. If it creates more jobs, why not? Also I'd love for there to be an MS store somewhere in my area (i'm in CT)
  • I think Microsoft stores would benefit them. When they released Vista, there was home basic and home premium. I think they were trying to differentiate hardware, but at the same time offer different software experience. Even though that was failure, consumers have a hard time differentiating what is a good laptop. I think Microsoft should issues certifications to laptops like they have done on their website, but it should be a seal. Consumer Class, Gamer Class, Business Class, Student Class, and give a specific year. So it is easier to buy a PC. Apple does that with their laptop, either you get the basic macbook or the macbook pro. Currently most of the laptops on sale aren't the best machines, and not all laptops are sold at the retail level. I think they should have experience centers through out the country, it is not about selling PCs, it is about educating the consumer.
  • I live in Southern California and there are 2 stores in the area. One is 10 minutes away, the other is 1.5 hours away.I like the concept. The execution could be better.The cool things... If you get a PC there, the OS is clean with none of the bloatware that Dell, HP, Sony, etc. plaster on their systems. So if you want an HP without half the desktop filled with icons, the MS store is the place to buy it.The display that spans all the walls of the store. Very cool.Multiple surface displays to play with.The look of the store is very clean and the workers try to help at every opportunity (they have a lot of people working which when combined with a not heavy crowd leads to them almost following you around).The not so good...Nothing that's special or unique is prominently displayed. For example, they have a Kinect display with various demos (the same demos everyone's seen). They have a couple other 360's running various games. But the way they're displayed, it's more like there to babysit the kids while the parents shop than trying to sell the idea of how cool the 360 system is. They should show video conferencing with the Kinect. They should show ESPN or Netflix integration. They should show Windows Media Center integration. They should show the Kinect hacks.The surface displays also seem to be there just to pass the kids' time. They have some games running like the tower defense game and while it's neat, all it is to most people is a touchscreen table.The laptops and desktops are there. But most of them aren't doing anything. Some of the touchscreen desktops have the cool touchy apps running. But most just have the Windows 7 desktop and are pretty bare. It's not that interesting to sit at the Windows 7 desktop to launch notepad or spider solitaire. You see lots of people (especially kids) using Facebook or checking their emails. And it's weird to see the inventors of the TabletPC only show a couple models haphazardly (the HP TM2 and the Lenovo TabletPC). You'd think Microsoft would want to show what makes MS unique.The Windows Phone displays weren't prominent. I'll give some slack to MS here because it's been awhile since I've gone to the store (which may be telling in itself), and maybe they've improved the WP7 promotions. But when I was there, it was just some phones out there with nothing special or loaded up.Microsoft should use the stores to sell the lifestyle like Apple does. The store shouldn't try to sell the commodity PCs. They should show the gee-whiz stuff and let the goodwill cascade down to sales.
  • I live near the Mall of America (Bloomington MN) where MS has a huge store right across the aisle from Apple. I went in to look at WP7 phones, expecting to hate them, and walked out owning one. I think for a company with an image problem like Microsoft's, stores could be important. Until reading the posts above, I didn't realize you could buy a "clean" PC there, which is a big deal. This does however tend to put those cr@pware-laden sleds sold by HP and Dell in a somewhat unfavorable light. Which is a good thing, because Microsoft needs to take back control of their platform from "partners" who are simply defacing and degrading it to scratch out their margins.
  • Echoing what others have said, the Microsoft store needs to be a place where people can expect *the* coolest stuff Microsoft has to offer. We should see how Windows 7, Xbox 360 (with Kinect, of course), Windows Home Server, Windows LIVE, and Windows Phone 7 all come together to connect, entertain, and make life easier for the family.We should see how Windows 7, Windows Phone 7 and their respective editions of Office come together to make our jobs easier.Part of that means showing off some of the coolest that various hardware partners have to offer. It should also mean showing off how well MS products work on lower end hardware, so average Joe can see he's not left in the dust.Microsoft has some pretty cool stuff. They need bring all their products together under a common marketing story everyone can relate to.
  • The MS stores have to be hurting right now, though, because of the lack of a tablet that can really go toe-to-toe with the IPad.
  • I strongly support Microsoft building more stores. First, both the on-line and physical stores demonstrate cutting edge stuff and products in limited release (exopc, Asus 121 right now for example), as well as the higher end of their OEM's units. Second, the physical stores have staff on hand (and lots of it) that actually knows how to use the products. Third, all of the computers they sell offer the Microsoft Signature feature which tunes the computer and deletes all OEM crapware. Fourth, the stores offer training and advice. Fifth, the physical stores allow Microsoft to demonstrate technology and get consumer feedback. There were two Surface computers at the store I recently visited for example. Sixth, the stores offer one place to see all of Microsoft's products from Windows Phone devices (sadly, not unlocked devices) to every Xbox game. I also think it is wise to locate near Apple Stores. There is a reason Target is usually near Wal-Mart and Lowes near Home Depot. Competitors benefit from the proximity of one another. Consumers do too. The stores offer Microsoft an effective way to test and gauge consumer response to their products. Because Microsoft products are sold in other stores, I don't think they need to or should match Apple store for store. I do think they need to have a store in each large metropolitan area of the US, Canada and the UK and other important markets over time.