Microsoft’s “New Approach” to Retail Stores: Closing Forever

Ironically, this boarded-up Microsoft Store location in New York City, seen on June 8, is one of the four in the world that <em data-recalc-dims=be reopen, but as an “experience center” where you can’t buy anything “/>
Enlarge / / Ironically, this bricked-up Microsoft Store location in New York City, seen on June 8, is one of four in the world that be reopen, but as an “experience center” where you can’t buy anything.

Microsoft retail stores, like many retailers across the country, have been closed for months due to the new coronavirus pandemic. However, if you were hoping to revisit one as the restrictions on your condition are eased, you’re out of luck – the Microsoft Store is done forever.

The company announced the shutdown today in a fun way as the Microsoft Store takes “a new approach to retail,” meaning it “doesn’t actually operate retail stores.” Although four locations – in London, New York, Sydney and Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington – will remain open, they will become “experience centers” where you can see, touch and play with Microsoft products, but in reality don’t buy any.

Microsoft naturally praised the “strategic shift” as a victory, saying that online sales have grown and that the product portfolio “has evolved to largely digital offerings,” which, 2020 being what it is, no doubt. It is true. But Microsoft stores, which began opening in 2009, were never able to escape the comparison with Apple’s retail stores.

That was particularly true in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, where the first Apple Store opened in 2001. Microsoft opened a store in the same mall eight years later, in 2009, and the comparisons were inevitable. Brad Smith, who was vice president of Microsoft and is now president of the company, said at the time that the comparisons were simply “the nature of retail,” adding, “you go to Saks and you will see some similarities to Nordstrom.”

I’ve also been through the Tyson’s Corner location regularly for the past decade. It’s down the hall from the Apple Store, conveniently located between Banana Republic and a Tesla showroom. But while the Apple Store always seems to be full of crowds, both the cars and the crisp buttons on both sides always generated more joy than the showroom filled with Surface tablets. In addition to some kids playing on Xbox demo units, the Microsoft store rarely seemed to attract a crowd.