RealTime IT News

Here Come the Microsoft Stores

This will not help accusations that Microsoft copies Apple's good ideas.

Microsoft Thursday quietly announced it is opening its own chain of company-branded stores. Very quietly. Disclosure of the store strategy was almost hidden in plain sight as part of a press release Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) issued Thursday afternoon announcing the hiring of a "corporate vice president of Retail Stores."

Microsoft said little else about its planned venture into retail, except to say that it will open a small number of stores.

The new hire is David Porter, who comes to Microsoft from animation studio DreamWorks Animation SKG, where he headed worldwide product distribution. Prior to that, Porter worked for Wal-Mart Stores for 25 years, according to the press release. His last job at Wal-Mart was vice president and general merchandise manager of Entertainment.

Porter will report directly to Microsoft's COO Kevin Turner, and will work with, among others, existing retail leaders in the Entertainment & Devices Division – home of Xbox games consoles, games, mice and keyboards as well as Zune music players. His first official day is Feb. 16.

Very little is known about what his plans are, though. Many plans haven't been made yet, although the mission statement is in place.

"Defining the time frame, locations and specifics for planned Microsoft-branded retail stores will be Porter’s first order of business," the release states. "The purpose of opening these stores is to create deeper engagement with consumers and continue to learn firsthand about what they want and how they buy."

Still, the company wouldn't comment much beyond the press release, including when to expect to see the first store open.

"David will lead Microsoft’s efforts to create a better PC and Microsoft retail purchase experience for consumers worldwide through the development and opening of a small number of Microsoft-branded stores," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

That's a good idea, and appears to be based on Microsoft's own “user experience” store on the company’s campus, according to one analyst.

"It's a way to show consumers what you can do in a Windows world … for instance, a Windows home," Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group, told InternetNews.com. "It's not just a retail opportunity so much as it's a way to talk to consumers in a way that they haven't done before," he added.

Still, he said, if the number of stores stays small, it's not likely to ever be a major contributor to Microsoft's bottom line. That's part of the reason he doesn't think it's a response to the explosive success of Apple's stores, which definitely contribute to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) bottom line.

"Apple has control over the things that work in the Apple world [and] that Microsoft will never have," said Rubin.