With the news that Microsoft has finally closed its retail stores, maybe the writing was on the wall. COVID-19 rocked retail. Just think of the names that are either in trouble or out of business that we considered a pandemic: Pier 1 Imports, J. Crew, even Neiman Marcus. But honestly, Microsoft was the last retailer I expected to give up.
After all, Microsoft's retail plans only made sense. Like Apple Stores, these were brand ambassadors – both of which helped define the company's perception of Microsoft terms and give customers direct access to personal support. The Apple Store has a Genius bar, Microsoft Stores has (or more precisely now) the Answer Desk.
And it wasn't a secret the company was targeting in Redmond, Washington. Almost each of the 85 Microsoft stores was within a mile of an Apple store, three quarters of them within a quarter of a mile, many of them in the same mall. This allowed consumers to shop at both – and give Microsoft the opportunity to steal business.
Both followed a similar concept when presenting their hardware, focused on behaving more like a showroom than conventional layouts, and encouraged customers to try the hardware on display. It is an experience more than anything else.
Microsoft stores had no problems
There is no reason to believe that the Microsoft stores did not do this successfully. Her business was by no means empty. Although we don't have specific data in a quarter of the stores, Microsoft seemed to be doing quite well. The London location opened less than a year ago as one of the company's flagship stores.
Closing the stores themselves is a $ 450 million success, the company says. However, it is incredibly short-sighted to look at the value of Microsoft Stores only from a sales perspective.
As an Apple user, I have recognized the service aspect of the Apple Store ecosystem. When I go to an Apple store, I'm confident that the people behind the desk know the product. There is a sense of security that you are not getting a BS.
Keith Nelson Jr./Digital Trends
There is also the fact that I can go to the store and see the products. Yes, online purchases are convenient, but personally viewing the product is a better experience and leads to a more informed purchase. I think other Apple customers think the same – and other retailers are switching to a showroom model to stay viable in an increasingly challenging retail environment long before COVID-19.
It was advisable for Microsoft to imitate Apple here.
Microsoft customers deserve it better
While Microsoft plans to switch its store employees to online roles (an allegation that feels more like shop window decorations for the obvious layoffs of a significant number of retail employees, despite the claims to the contrary), Microsoft customers are now losing that human touch. The company also relies on being dependent on partners to tell its story who are not so invested.
The company has had some bruises over the past decade or two, whether due to Zune and Windows Phone failures, and has spent much of the 2010s undoing the damage done by Windows Vista. But Microsoft also had some great successes: The Xbox gaming system is as good, if not better than the PlayStation, and even the most die-hard Apple fan will admit that the Surface line is a legitimate competitor to the iPad and MacBook lines is.
Microsoft itself serves these customers best – especially the growing number of Surface users in the company – and no web chat or phone call is as good as an actual person in front of you. Sure, COVID-19 changed our interaction, but it won't always be that way.
It's a disappointment that Microsoft didn't realize the real value of its efforts and decided to give up retail in a meaningful way. I can't help but sit here and think that this is an overreaction and more of a mistake.
But now it's too late and another retailer is gone – this one before its time.