Microsoft is giving up on being a retailer.
The tech company said on Friday it was permanently closing all of its retail stores except for four flagship stores, saying it can provide customers its sales, training, and support services remotely and that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to the company that it could easily do so.
“Our sales have grown online as our product portfolio has evolved to largely digital offerings, and our talented team has proven success serving customers beyond any physical location,” said David Porter, the head of Microsoft’s stores unit, in a statement.
The closing of most of Microsoft’s roughly 70 U.S. locations, typically located in shopping malls, deals another big blow to mall operators facing department store bankruptcies and clothing chain closures. As is the case with rival Apple’s larger fleet, Microsoft Stores attract a more affluent shopper. Microsoft operates another 45 or so locations in other countries.
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But Microsoft has found it can serve customers more nimbly by not having them tied to one location, reducing the need for brick-and-mortar spaces, especially given the traffic problems many malls are having. The company will keep four flagship locations: in New York on Fifth Avenue, London, Sydney, and on its home campus in Redmond, Wash.
The first Microsoft Store opened in 2009 as the company sought to compete with Apple’s successful retail experience and have customers try out Microsoft software products in person. (Microsoft went so far as to open that splashy store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, close to Apple’s glass cube by the entrance to Central Park.) But Microsoft products are less consumer-focused than Apple’s, and its stores paled in comparison to Apple’s in terms of their popularity.
Microsoft said in its press release that its online store at Microsoft.com and the Xbox and Windows storefronts reach “up to 1.2 billion monthly customers in 190 markets.” At the same time, as both Apple’s and Nike’s results consistently show, good stores can enhance the business of even the most digitally savvy companies.