Windows PC users face dwindling retail options

Windows PC users face dwindling retail options

Summary: I'm not shedding a whole lot of tears for Circuit City -- except for one rather important service with which my local provided me. Once Circuit City liquidates in March, I'll have nowhere to go to kick Windows-PC tires before I buy them.

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I'm not shedding a whole lot of tears for Circuit City -- except for one rather important service with which my local provided me. Once Circuit City liquidates in March, I'll have nowhere to go to kick Windows-PC tires before I buy them.

With Windows 7 expected to debut later this year, I already am thinking about where can I check out real, live Windows PCs from a variety of vendors. (Besides a trade show, which is an option for me, but not for the majority of everyday consumers.)

I admittedly am one of those people who like to hold, see, touch and lift my laptops before I buy them. Even though I might opt to buy my laptop online, I like seeing it in real life first. With Circuit City liquidating, my only real option now is to go to Best Buy, Staples or Office Max (none of which is my preferred go-to place for major electronics purchases). Costco, BJ's and Walmart -- other retailers where you can find some PCs -- are not options for many living in metropolitan areas where having car access is not guaranteed. Plus, the very limited selection at these outlets doesn't make buying a PC fun -- or even interesting.

To me, the lack of Windows PC retail options is especially noticeable right now, given Microsoft's increasing focus on improving the perception of the Windows brand in the consumer space. If Microsoft's goal is to sell pricier Windows SKUs on fancier hardware -- not just on cut-rate netbooks and low-end desktops -- is Costco really the best venue?

As Michael Reyes, head of Hardwaregeeks.com, noted when we were chatting about this: "If you are a consumer and want to check out the latest and greatest (Windows PC or Windows-powered device), you really can't. It takes most new laptops two or three months after they are announced to hit store shelves."

Some have wondered why Microsoft doesn't simply open its own retail stores -- a la Apple. Not sure how many remember, but Microsoft tried and abandoned a brick-and-mortar Microsoft store (located in San Francisco's Metreon complex) in 2001. And with all the cost-cutting the Redmondians are doing right now, I'm doubtful they're seriously thinking about taking on new leases in major, high-rent areas to open stores that might or might not make money.

I asked the Windows team for Microsoft's advice for individuals looking for places that showcase the variety of Windows PCs. A spokesperson sent this response via e-mail:

"As part of the larger Windows brand campaign launch in September, Microsoft conducted 270 Windows-branded in store pilot programs in partnership with leading retailers in key markets worldwide. Preliminary results include reports of higher customer satisfaction with the PC purchase. Additionally, Microsoft launched a new program known as Microsoft "Gurus" - more than 220 Gurus are in place today -- to assist PC buyers in retail stores within select markets make relevant and worthwhile decisions. And more recently, it launched an online buying guide called Laptop Scout to help people find the Windows laptop that's right for them."

(Circuit City was one of the main venues Microsoft was planning to place its "Gurus," by the way. And the online buying guide still doesn't address the "kick the tires" aspect of PC shopping I'm wondering about....)

How do you compare PCs these days? Where do you go to evaluate real -- not virtual -- new Windows machines?

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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104 comments
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  • People will just move on to Best Buy, Sears,

    Wal-Mart, ect.

    It may hurt Apple a bit, too.
    GuidingLight
    • Apple moved into best buy

      i am seeing their mini-stores in best buys all around orlando.
      Been_Done_Before
    • Best Buy

      if they move on to best buy they better have more cash and look out for the person that's out to rip you off by selling you things you don't need.
      bwchato
  • This is where a companies REP starts to mean

    something. All those surveys of "customer satisfaction"
    and "customer loyalty" might mean a whole lot more if you
    simply don't have a chance to check out your choices and
    can only go by pictures on the web and a list of specs next
    too said picture.

    Lets face it everyone and their mother is looking to reduce
    costs. .. stores and the payroll to keep em open is a HUGE
    cost. Apple is the only company I know of that is actually
    opening its own stores. I never heard of a Dell store or at
    least haven't heard of one is a very long time. Same with
    GateWhy or HP.

    So things like surveys and good ole fashioned "word of
    mouth" will start meaning a lot more too more people.

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
    • Dell has kiosks in malls or at best buy and walmart.

      nt
      Been_Done_Before
      • Pu-leeeze!

        Oh, I think I want THIS Dell! No, maybe that one! Which one will look nicer on my desk? OHHH, it just MUST be THIS one with the blue emblem, oh wait, maybe THAT one...Who can tell the difference? Who cares, they're all overpriced and you won't get "Worst In Industry"-award service on them when they break anyway.
        NotMSUser
    • Gateway had the Country Stores ....

      ... long before Apple opened their first store. They just didn't make a profit. You can still go to Best Buy and try a Dell, HP, Gateway, Lenova, Sony and Apple. Try doing that at an Apple store!
      ShadeTree
      • Gateway blew it

        First their stores only functioned as
        showcases where you could try the
        machine but then had to "configure" it
        and order. Buyers could not obtain the
        "instant satisfaction" of trying and
        buying the product right there.

        Then, when the above wasn't working,
        Gateway stocked a few very basic
        machines that you could buy. That
        selection was a joke.

        Gateway also located stores in low
        traffic areas. I assume this was to save
        on rent. This deprived Gateway of any
        walk ins. They thought they could be a
        "destination" store. They were not. I
        used to drive by one Gateway store on
        the way to a friend's house. There were
        no other stores, other than a deli, a
        diner, and a gas station near the thing.
        Why anybody would locate a computer
        store there was astounding.

        Gateway also put "ordering stations" in
        Office Max stores. In the store near me,
        I never once saw anybody manning the
        thing. Meanwhile, to the left of the
        ordering station, about 10 feet from it,
        the store had a selection of HP, etc
        computers that people could try and
        buy on the spot.
        j.m.galvin
        • Not true about Gateway not offering product in stores

          I bought a desktop for my wife and a laptop for myself, brand new ones, and walked out the door with my purchase. The laptop in particular was very powerful for its time. However, I would agree that the overall selection available in the store wasn't nearly as full as what Gateway offered by order.
          Aragorn_z
          • the Gateway experience sucked

            Yes, right before Gateway Stores folded they offered a few machines for take out...
            I visited a Gateway Store, once. They indeed told me the inventory was for demo only, and in only a few days I could have one made and shipped to my home.
            I had immediate computer work waiting. I don't buy that way and appearantly I was not alone. Bye Bye Gateway. The salesman understood my position, and agreed. Lost sale. Gateway folded.
            Boxarox
        • gateway in apple's home

          There was a Gateway store for a short period in Cupertino. I think my sister got a desktop from there... But it was not located in a good spot. I mean, Cupertino is a small town (the store was just over a mile away from apple HQ), and they still managed to put it in a low-visibility area. At Stevens Creek Blvd and Perimeter Rd. The shopping center it was in at the time was also having serious issues drawing traffic.
          midenginedrift
      • Did not say GateWhy did not have stores...

        I think I said something to the effect that its been a long
        times since I heard anything about PC makers having stores.

        Yes Apple has its own stores..did GateWhy have Apple's in it's
        stores? And Apple has Best Buy and others I think. So its all
        good for Apple it would seem since their stores actually
        make money.

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
  • RE: Windows PC users face dwindling retail options

    I think part of the problem was that, as you said, people would go to Circuit City, kick the tires, and go home and order a computer online. CC provided a service, but wasn't getting paid for it.

    I think CC had its issues, but please have some empathy to the fact that 35k folks lost their jobs...
    ickray
  • Can't have it both ways

    I think you nailed the problem - that consumers use stores like Circuit City to "kick the tires", and then go online (elsewhere) to purchase and save a few bucks. Problem is those few bucks are what pays for the store space and customer service required to let you kick the tires.

    Apple makes you pay for a great store experience by tightly controlling sales - not something easily accomplished for PC makers, as PC buyers have a multitude of alternatives.
    Kip Kniskern
    • The problem we have all faced here in our country..

      Lets face it business as a rule wants too make more and
      spend less. So for a while now they send their
      manufacturing out to nations/peoples that work for less
      and have less rules. OK... FIne but what seems to be
      missing here is that the WORKER is the CONSUMER
      morons. So while business sends jobs over sea's it also
      reduces the pay/benefits for the workers still here in the
      states and to add injury too insult for the cause of stock
      holders they play games with job security ie mergers and
      layoffs. Meaning the worker ie consumer has nothing to
      count on and no where steady too stand. THEN just too
      make things worse the big wigs in Wall Street still not
      satisfied with their ill gotten gains devise foolish methods
      to INCREASE their already absurd profits and bloated bank
      accounts hence the problems we are facing now. Sure go
      ahead build an economy a CONSUMER economy on a house
      of cards and wait for a good wind to come blowing
      through. Sheeeeezzzzzzzzz. IDIOTS!!!!

      Remember this everyone the worker is the consumer...get
      it!?!

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Henry Ford knew it

        [the worker is the consumer]

        HF built his auto empire on the idea that the workers would be the best consumers of his product. He paid them MORE than the market wage so they could afford to buy a car. He single-handedly created the market.

        Thanks to him, I exist today. He got my grandfather out of the coal mine and moved him to Detroit.

        Where is this type of leadership today? Everything is short-term gains - no one builds anything anymore.
        Roger Ramjet
        • So what your saying is ....

          ... that if your grandfather hadn't left the coal mines you wouldn't exist? A ridiculous assertion desrving of Murph!
          ShadeTree
          • It's not ridiculous.

            What if he met the guy's mom after he moved? Or, what if
            his dad got killed in the mines?

            Think of the butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps his wings in
            Chicago, and there's a hurricane in Jamaica!

            Any small change can effect major happenings.
            Hameiri
          • All speculation.

            Which is what makes it ridiculous. There is no cause and effect only what ifs.
            ShadeTree
          • Perhaps the mine his grandfather worked later had

            a major collapse? Perhaps his grand farther knew the shaft
            he worked in an say all his co-workers that he shared a shift
            with die in said shaft? Perhaps you are speculating that the
            above does not have enough information?

            Pagan jim
            James Quinn