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?
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a 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 on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.