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Microsoft Retail Stores Would Fail

Editorial - Microsoft Retail Stores Would Fail

by , 4:25 PM EDT, April 11th, 2008

Rumors are floating around that Microsoft is considering retail stores, like Apple's, to showcase its products. The problem is, there's nothing to showcase, and while Apple understands the retail store paradigm and has products to back it up, Microsoft does not.

This week, BusinessWeek in addition to analysts from Gartner have pointed out that the level of customer pain with regard to Vista has been caused by Microsoft's inability to innovate with the monster code base of Windows. As a result, making dramatic changes to Vista are akin to rapid changes in direction of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) aircraft carrier.

While business users are willing to endure the pain because they have an iT staff, and they've made a huge investment in Microsoft products, consumers have shown less willingness. For example, they'll grudging accept a new PC with Vista installed, but off the shelf sales of Vista upgrades are abysmal. That right there speaks volumes about the prospects for Microsoft retail stores. CompuUSA's Windows focus and subsequent bankruptcy add further insight.

Microsoft's estimation of the retail market appears to be influenced by Apple's success, and the thinking may be, "Hey, if Apple can do it, so can we."

The problem with that is that thinking is that it completely ignores the fundamentals of the retail business, what turns customers on, what drives them into stores, what makes them pull out their credit cards and what they expect from the retail buying experience. In order to do that, one first has to have products that are easy to support, easy to use, and for which customers lust. Apple's product design and philosophy naturally leads to retail; Microsoft's does not.

There just isn't any analog to Apple products on the Windows side. Customers love cool toys and hardware as evidenced by Apple's enormous Christmas holiday sales. As a result, if Microsoft is even thinking about retail stores like Apple's, they've demonstrated that they fundamentally don't understand the consumer experience and that their corporate strategy remains focused on wannabe greed and not a clear vision of what customers need.

If Microsoft were focused on those needs, they wouldn't be spending so much valuable upper management time and energy on acquiring Yahoo!.

Does Microsoft really want customers, feeling great pain, carrying their computers into those Microsoft retail stores and searching for a Windows genius? Imagine the lines.

For now, Microsoft still has a grip on corporate America which, while not happy with the situation in many cases, just doesn't have the technical expertise, will or money to abandon Microsoft. Tending to corporate America with a truly next generation OS, before the company crumbles under the weight of Windows might be boring, but it's the only chance Microsoft has for long term viability.

Microsoft retail stores would be like putting lipstick on a chicken.

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