Microsoft’s efforts to reconnect to its customers (both consumers and businesses) via its physical retail stores has come to an abrupt halt.
The software giant announced last week plans to permanently close all Microsoft Store locations in the United States and around the world.
Instead, the Microsoft flagship locations in New York City, London, Sydney, and Redmond will be turned into ‘experience centres’ that will no longer sell products.
Redmond announced the retail store closures last week, calling it a “strategic change in its retail operations.”
It should be remembered that Microsoft had only opened its UK retail store a year ago, when it in July 2019 it opened in the prime retail location of Oxford Circus (on Regent Street).
Its store there covers 21,932 square feet over three floors.
Microsoft had three other flagship retail stores around the world, namely in New York City (Fifth Ave), Sydney (Westfield Sydney), and the Redmond campus location.
All other Microsoft Store locations across the United States and globally (estimated to be 83) will be closing, and the company will concentrate on digital retail moving forward.
The existing four flagship locations will be turned into experience centres that no longer sell products.
“Microsoft will continue to invest in its digital storefronts on Microsoft.com, and stores in Xbox and Windows, reaching more than 1.2 billion people every month in 190 markets,” said the software giant. “The company will also reimagine spaces that serve all customers, including operating Microsoft Experience Centers in London, NYC, Sydney, and Redmond campus locations.”
The good news is there will reportedly be no layoffs from this decision.
“Our sales have grown online as our product portfolio has evolved to largely digital offerings, and our talented team has proven success serving customers beyond any physical location,” said Microsoft corporate VP David Porter. “We are grateful to our Microsoft Store customers and we look forward to continuing to serve them online and with our retail sales team at Microsoft corporate locations.”
Microsoft had closed its store locations in late March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“We deliberately built teams with unique backgrounds and skills that could serve customers from anywhere,” said Porter. “The evolution of our workforce ensured we could continue to serve customers of all sizes when they needed us most, working remotely these last months.”
Microsoft said that it has seen “significant growth” via its digital storefronts, including Microsoft.com, and stores on Xbox and Windows, and the firm will “continue to invest in digital innovation across software and hardware.”
This includes offering potential customers 1:1 video chat support, online tutorial videos, and virtual workshops.
“It is a new day for how Microsoft Store team members will serve all customers,” said Porter. “We are energised about the opportunity to innovate in how we engage with all customers, maximise our talent for greatest impact, and most importantly help our valued customers achieve more.”
Microsoft’s decision to retire its physical retail stores will come as no surprise for industry watchers.
The physical Microsoft Store concept had arrived as far back as 2009 and was closely modeled on Apple’s retail store approach.
Each Microsoft Store for example displayed Redmond’s Surface and Xbox hardware, plus a selection of third-party PCs.
But the reality is that consumers have had very little reason to visit Microsoft retail stores of late.
Microsoft does have its Xbox Series X (launching sometime this year), as well as its folding phone device called the Surface Duo, to pique consumer interest, but little else to interest the average consumer.
Its dual-screen Surface Neo device has been delayed indefinitely, and its Surface branded devices are (for many consumers) simply too expensive.
And lets not forget about Windows-powered smartphones.
In January 2019 Redmond finally admitted there was no recovery from its ignominious retreat from the smartphone sector, when it advised Windows 10 Mobile diehards to switch to either Android or iOS handsets.
Indeed, the Windows Phone platform had been dead as a dodo long before that decision, but until that time loyal fans had been hoping against hope that Redmond would be more committed to its successor (Windows 10 Mobile).
Microsoft eventually pulled the plug on Cortana for consumers this year.
Other consumer retreats by Redmond saw Microsoft shut down its Groove Music service and telling its users to switch to Spotify.
Microsoft also entered the smartwatch sector with the Microsoft Band in 2014.
But just two years later in 2016 Microsoft stopped sales and development of the device, and in 2019 the Band’s companion app was decommissioned.
Microsoft did offer a refund for lifelong active platform users however.
Another failed hardware foray was the Windows-powered RT tablets, that used ARM processors instead of Intel x86 processors.
More recently Microsoft has been accused of ignoring Skype, which has been in decline against the likes of WhatsApp and Apple Facetime.
And there is no replacement for the Windows 10 OS – an operating system that was released to market way back in 2015.
Instead Microsoft is simply providing updates for the OS going forward.
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