More Microsoft stores on the way

More Microsoft stores on the way

The stores in Natick, Massachusetts; Honolulu, Hawaii; Portland, Oregon; Troy, Michigan; and Schaumburg, Illinois are in addition to the six stores the company announced in December and will bring its total number of permanent and pop-up shops in North America up to 72.

Despite the fact that online sales are rapidly outstripping physical sales in the US and around Europe, Apple's success in the physical retail space proves there is still a demand for real stores with real people and real products to try before purchase.

As Jonathan Adashek, general manager, Communications Strategy, Sales & Marketing Services Group, Microsoft said in a statement: "Our customers continue to tell us that they value our stores for connecting them to the best of Microsoft. This delights us to no end. From the newest touchscreen laptops, desktops, and tablets running Windows 8, to Windows Phones, to Xbox and Kinect consoles and accessories, to a wide array of first and third-party software titles, our goal is to introduce you to the best choice, value and service we have to offer."

The recent launch of Microsoft's first tablet, the Microsoft Surface RT is a case in point. Though available globally via Microsoft's website, sales have so far been sluggish -- the latest figures suggest it has sold less than 1 million units since its launch in November -- and one reason for this lack of performance is because potential buyers outside of the US at least have had nowhere to go where they can see the product up close, test its features and talk to a knowledgeable member of staff about whether or not it is the device that best suits their needs. The product is slowly rolling out to traditional retailers such as Staples and Best Buy in the US but, as of yet, there are no details as to whether Microsoft will allow retailers beyond the US to stock the device.

Conversely, one of the reasons why the iPad, which at its launch was a totally new product, has been so successful, is because Apple has a global network of Apple retail stores designed specifically for this purpose. In fact, Apple currently has 401 retail stores around the world, including 251 in the US. And despite the growing impact of online sales, these stores earn on average $6050 per square foot in the US alone and the average income from each retail outlet globally is estimated to be in the region of $51.1 million.

This continued investment in bricks and mortar stores is good news for Microsoft fans. With the launch of the Surface Pro tablet-cum-computer on February 9, the company has a chace to redefine the concept of the traditional PC. But if potential buyers have no way of testing the product and have instead to rely on online reviews to make a decision, they may well pass up on the opportunity and purchase an iPad from the local Apple store instead.

As well as in its native North America, Microsoft is actively searching for buildings it can convert into flagship stores around the world. In November, the Financial Times reported that the company had been holding talks with property landlords in the UK with the hopes of opening a flagship European store before the end of 2013, most probably in London. However, according to a source close to the discussions, no decision will be made until Microsoft has assessed the performance of its existing stores.