Microsoft's Surface Pro launch marred by supply shortages

Microsoft's Surface Pro launch marred by supply shortages

Summary: Microsoft is touting 'amazing' customer response to its new Surface Pro. But customers are saying they couldn't get their hands on devices due to lack of supply.


What if they threw a product launch and potential customers came -- but the product didn't?


That seems to be what's happened with the 128 GB model Microsoft's Surface Pro, which officially "launched" on February 9.

Microsoft didn't take pre-orders for either the 64 GB or 128 GB Intel-based Surface Pro devices, unlike the case with its previously launched ARM-based Surface RT devices. Because of this, a number of customers planned to go to the closest Microsoft Stores, Best Buys, Staples and Future Shops in the U.S. and Canada to try to get their hands on a Surface Pro on day one.

But once they got there, many said they discovered their stores had very few of the Surface Pro 128 GB models and in some cases, equally few of the 64 GB ones

I received e-mails from a few readers who made treks to their local stores on Saturday morning only to discover stores received a handful, or in some cases, just one 128 GB Surface Pro. Some stores still have 64 GB Surface Pros on hand as of February 10. Users can't order these devices online via the Microsoft Store, Best Buy or Staples sites because they are "sold out."

(ZDNet's Matthew Miller was one of the lucky ones who did get a 128 GB model, but it took lots of persistence and a 50-mile drive each way for him to get one.)

I checked the Union Square New York City Best Buy store -- which was supposed to be central location for Microsoft's Surface Pro launch at midnight on February 9. (Planned launch festivities were cancelled due to the blizzard which hit the Northeast on February 8, but Best Buy was still intending to stay open for the midnight launch, last I talked to a store representative.)

The Best Buy page is providing conflicting information. In one place, I received notice there were still Surface Pro 64 GB models available in the Union Square store as of the close of business on February 9. The main availability page for the 128 GB version shows that none of the Best Buy New York area stores has 128 GB models and Best Buy isn't allowing users to order them.


Microsoft isn't explaining -- at least so far -- what caused the supply shortage. Instead, via a February 9 Surface Blog post, Microsoft officials are only saying:

"Customer response to the launch of Surface Pro has been amazing. We’re working with our retail partners who are currently out of stock of the 128GB Surface Pro to replenish supplies as quickly as possible."

I've emailed the Surface team to see if anyone would say more about the reasons for the supply shortages. No word back so far.

The vast majority of the comments responding to the February 9 post are fairly scathing. Those claiming to have been excited about purchasing a Surface Pro on day one said they are frustrated by how badly the launch was botched. Some commenters said they thought Microsoft intentionally limited supply so as to be able to claim it had sold out of devices. (C'mon, guys. Don't you think the Softies would rather have the money?) Others blamed the retailers for failing to order enough devices.

Microsoft originally intended to make the Surface Pro available in January 2013. Officials pushed the launch back to February 2013 without any explanation for the delay.

The Surface team recently did a Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&A session, sharing some more information about its Surface Pro decisions and plans. The move received praise from many press and customers who've been starved for real communication about the Surface. Here's hoping the team will keep that momentum going with more about the trials and tribulations of supply-chain management.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs, Windows, Windows 8


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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  • mary jo the troll

    So if apple sells out, its sold out. If Microsoft sells out, its out of supply. Why don't you quit writing and get a life
    • Oh shut up jebarson007

      If you actually read her articles you might actually know she is a good journalist. If you are going to comment on an article make it worthwhile. YOU are the troll
      • By the way

        You are not 007. Bond is much cooler than you :P
    • How rude...

      If you had something to say, you could have used more polite language. Would you talk to friends, family, strangers face-to-face the same way? Probably not... at at least I hope not.

      It may have escaped your attention that you couldn't preorder the Surface Pro from MS. Even now if you try to order the 128 GB model from MS, you can't select that version. The web site simply says: "Out of stock". Check it for yourself:

      As for Apple, even if you can't get the merchandise right then, you can still order it. The iMac is a good example. It'll take you weeks to get one.
      • +1

        MJF is certainly pro-MS, but she is also quite balanced and fair. More so, MJF is always courteous and polite - skills clearly lacked by the OP.
    • Apple sale

      Quit being a jackass. I bet you would not like it if somebody publicly said you suck at your job. It takes somebody miserable to really put somebody down when they said nothing negative about the product but about the supply management process. As for the comparison between Apple and Microsoft there is a major difference. Apple sales out and still takes orders and say it is a three week shipping delay. Microsoft goes the Kmart route and just grays out the button. In addition I went to three different best buy and they had one each. Are you saying that Apple just release 1 Ipad per Target, Walmart, or Apple Store. I would say check you status. That being said I know you will probably call me a fanboy which is not an insult since I do own multiple Apple and Window products. I will buy the Surface or Helix in addition.
      Gary Friudenberg
      • Apple and Sell-Outs

        Also, Apple clearly prioritizes and allocates shipment to its stores over online and other retail vendors. I also think the Apple stores ration the stock, so that every day somebody can get one of the devices in every store. Apple prefers that customers go into the store because it's an opportunity to sell accessories and Apple's iOS apps. Letting the customer see the other products Apple offers can't be a bad thing.

        But Apple never says no to those who want the new shiny, it only says not today.

        No citations, this is a mix of common sense and experience with buying Apple things.

        Frankly, I am amazed that Microsoft (as of yesterday) uses the phrase "Out of Stock." Online, they should be offering buyers a chance to buy now for delivery in 4-6 weeks. And if they can't manufacture them fast enough to meet the timing, then one would have to say there was a flaw in the launch's planning. Now, in a few months, if the lead times drop to next day, no one will care about the trials of turned-away buyers in the first month. On the other hand, if the uncertainty over delivery loses them sales (people choose a non-Windows tablet or a less expensive Windows notebook or more expensive touch notebook), but the ramp up in production numbers assumes that the demand remains unstated, that could be costly and humiliating.
    • "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid...

      ...than to open it and remove all doubt."
    • St. Matthew 7:5

      † 5 You hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother's eye.
    • Did you steal that name from a real MS consultant?

      because it seems weird that someone consulting for MS would get upset over a choice of words for an MS product that really means the same thing.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
    • What are you smoking?

      Mary Jo is a resident pro-microsoft writer.
  • Conflicting stories

    I have read conflicting stories from low turnout but Surface Pro's still selling out to high turnout but low stock. If what happened with the Surface RT is any indication. Microsoft was simply very conservative in stocking stores given how the Surface RT also sold out but we know now that it missed estimates big time. My question is, how many sales did Microsoft lose out on because of selling out? If I was Microsoft trying to sell a product with a lot of negative reviews even before it hit the shelves. I would want to be able to provide that customer with a product. In my opinion Microsoft has made yet another blunder in their long history or marketing stupidity.
    • I'd Like To Know

      Where is the Surface Pro made? Is it made in China? I'm assuming it's made in some asian country like Apple's products. If, the Surface Pro is made in China, Microsoft made a huge blunder in releasing it now because the Chinese are currently celebrating the next couple weeks for Chinese New Year.

      If they are making Surface Pro, or relying on components for the Surface Pro that come from China, they might have trouble immediately ramping up production because their workers are on hiatus (at least most of them are).

      It's this reason that Apple intentionally released iPad in March/April time period of 2012 last year because it gave the Chinese a chance to come back to the factories and ramp up production, with nothing to get in the way (Year of Dragon didn't start until Feb 22, 2012).

      Today is the first day of Chinese New Year (Feb 10, 2013). Not only is China celebrating the Lunar New Year, but all over asia including Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Phillipines, Cambodia, and others. I would be very surprised if some if not all components for Surface Pro didn't come from some or all those countries.
    • Don't Think They Underestimated

      To me I don't think Microsoft was able to manufacture enough product to meet demand. That seems more likely the culprit. Did they really think Best Buys and Staples would only sell 1 or 2 Surface Pro's on launch day? Because that's exactly what a lot of Best Buy's and Staples wound up getting. The stories out of Canada are even more bleak.

      Not having a pre-order to garner an idea of how strong demand was is another telling indicator of MSFT being unable to fulfill product demand. They didn't want to get consumer's hopes up. It's the reason you can't even backorder a Surface Pro now, it simply says "Out of Stock". I don't think they want to take anymore orders because I don't think they know when the will be able to deliver.

      Apple has it down. They know how long it will take to manufacture iMac or iPad and you'll get it within the specified time frame. MSFT always tries to copy Apple. I think if MSFT could have allowed people to backorder Surface Pro they could have done so easily.

      I think the fact that the Chinese are all out celebrating Chinese New Year is affecting product manufacture and it's a big reason MSFT is being so ghetto about the ordering process and not allowing people to backorder. They won't be able to seriously ramp up production until the employees come back which should be in about 2 weeks.
      • Low Stock On Hand

        Have a bud who works for Best Buy and said they had very few or either version available come in.

        Wonder what's up.
      • backorders...

        MS Online Store has never, to my knowledge, done backorders. If they have it in stock then you can order, otherwise it isn't even visible.
  • Oh Please

    Why not admit that they purposefully underproduced these tablets to create a false hype and scarcity in products to increase demand where there was none? Is that so hard to do?
    Yohan Jenkins
    • Kind of like...

      what Apple has done with the past few generations of their product lines. Apple gets positive publicity out of this type of scenario, everybody get negative.
      • kind of like this you mean

        After the iPad mini launch Apple sold 3 million in 3 days.
      • Let's see Microsoft announce an actual sales number.

        You can accuse Apple of underproducing, but they're one of the few companies to report actual sales figures. Most companies tout "shipped" numbers, or like Google and Amazon (and Microsoft with the Surface RT) don't announce numbers at all.