Microsoft forges ahead with its 'specialty store' push

Smaller 'specialty stores' are increasingly key to Microsoft's retail strategy.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft's brick-and-mortar store expansion is increasingly happening via 'specialty stores,' which are kiosks and small storefront-type outlets, typically located in shopping centers and malls.


On May 8, Microsoft announced it will be opening four new 'specialty stores' in May and June. The four newest locales: Roseville, Calif.; Arlington, Texas; Novi, Mich.; and Seattle. In April, Microsoft opened five new specialty stores.

According to Microsoft's Store locator page, there are a total of 34 specialty stores in the U.S. and Canada that are open now and/or opening soon. That's out of a total of 75 U.S. and Canadian Microsoft stores listed on that page.

Microsoft still has yet to open its first Microsoft Store outside the U.S. and Canada. There've been rumors about Microsoft opening a London store, but so far, nothing has materialized. There also still is not a permanent, full-sized Microsoft Store in Manhattan, NY.

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 Genuis Bars). The strategy at that time was to open these stores as close as possible to Apple Stores.

With the launch of Windows 8, just in time for the holiday 2012 selling season, Microsoft opted to open more than 30 holiday pop-up stores. A number of these have morphed into "specialty stores." These tend to be much smaller, often times occupying little more than a kiosk in a mall. They offer a much smaller selection of "curated" Microsoft products, with a heavy focus on Surface and Windows Phone.

Microsoft has been focusing on selling its own Surface RT and Pro PC/tablet hybrids in its own stores, though it gradually has been expanding distribution to other third-party retailers throughout the world.

Despite its continued specialty-store push, Microsoft isn't giving up on third-party retailers like Best Buy and Staples as a major conduit for Windows 8 and Windows RT. Tami Reller, the Chief Financial Officer of Windows, told me earlier this week that Microsoft has plans to work with these retailers to create specific sales experience areas for tablets, touch laptops, convertibles and all-in-ones.

Microsoft also will be changing its incentive programs for retail stores so that salespeople will be compensated for touch, 100 percent, when it comes to consumer sales, as of holiday 2013, Reller said.

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