Microsoft closes its 'specialty stores' in mall kiosks

Microsoft has closed its remaining specialty stores, or in-mall kiosks, and appears to be consolidating its retail presence around full-fledged brick-and-mortar stores.

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Credit: Microsoft

Just ahead of the opening next month of its London flagship store, Microsoft looks to be consolidating its brick-and-mortar retail outlets. It appears the company recently closed the remaining 'specialty stores,' which were its name for in-mall kiosks that it originally launched when it introduced its Surface PC line.

Like Windows Central, I'm hearing the reason for the closure is because of a corporate decision to focus more on flagship stores. Microsoft has a few flagship stores -- New York, Sydney, and London. Microsoft touts these flagship stores as not just retail outlets, but also as community centers, training facilities and places to hold corporate meetings.

I've asked Microsoft for an official comment. No word back so far. Windows Central says the closures affected the remaining 17 Microsoft specialty stores/kiosks.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed the move. Here's the full statement:

"After careful discussion and evaluation, we've made the decision to close our specialty store locations. We are focused on delivering great experiences throughout the customer journey. We will continue to connect with and empower our customers to achieve more and discover all that's possible with Microsoft through Microsoft Store across the globe online and in our physical stores in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia, and coming soon to the U.K. We look forward to continuing to showcase a robust lineup of products and services at our full line and flagship stores, providing the space and support for us to deliver experiences that our customers are excited about."

In 2012, Microsoft opened 30 holiday pop-up stores as part of its Windows 8 push. Some of these morphed into specialty stores.

As of 2013, Microsoft had 34 specialty stores operating and/or opening soon in the US and Canada. At that time, Microsoft still had not opened its Fifth Avenue New York Microsoft Store (that happened in 2015) and only had a kiosk in Manhattan in Columbus Circle.

Microsoft's store locator page lists 72 US-based Microsoft retail stores; one Australian store; seven Canadian stores; and one store in Puerto Rico. The London store is set to open on July 11. There are strong indications that Microsoft is planning to open a second major New York City store in the SoHo neighborhood.

When Microsoft announced plans to open its own stores in early 2009, it patterned itself after Apple, with large, standalone stores, complete with their own tech-support areas (Answer Desks, rather than Genius Bars). The strategy at that time was to open these stores as close as possible to Apple Stores.

I have to say, based on the few shoppers I usually see in the Fifth Avenue New York store, I'm surprised Microsoft is continuing to expand its brick-and-mortar presence. Sure, the Stores are good for image and for people like me who don't find shopping at Best Buy for new Windows PCs to be an optimal experience. But given how small Microsoft's consumer presence is these days outside of gaming, I have a hard time believing these stores earn their keep.

Corporate Vice President David Porter continues to oversee the Microsoft Store operations. On his LinkedIn page, Porter says a "team of more than 3,700 global employees is responsible for delivering a world-class retail offering."