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?