Microsoft vs. Apple: Retail Stores

Posted Monday May 6, 2013 at 9:13:54 pm in Musings

Microsoft and Apple have been in a constant battle since their creations in the mid 1970s. What has originally been a battle of operating systems has now escalated into a battle of ecosystems. But there is one war that has been quietly going on in the background: the retail store.

Retail stores from computer manufacturers were nothing new prior to Apple's retail efforts. Gateway's retail stores were named Gateway Country Stores...and the first was opened in North Carolina in 1996. Their main purposes, per the PC world article:

The stores offer hands-on demonstrations of PCs, software, services, and training. Customers can order their PCs through the store for delivery at their home. Last Christmas, to spur sales, Gateway stocked some stores with ready-to-buy PCs.

It's easy to see where Apple got some of its inspiration. And on May 19, 2001 the first two Apple retail stores opened: one in Tysons Corner, Virginia and the other in Glendale, California. But in 2001 while Apple was starting its retail store line, Gateway was starting to close some of theirs: 27 around the time Apple opened the first 2 of theirs.

But while Gateway continued to close their retail stores, Apple retail stores flourished. In 2003, Apple branched out of the United States and built their first retail presence in Japan on November 30, 2003. And then the following year in the United Kingdom on November 20, 2004. From there, their stores opened in various regions and countries from 2005 to 2012 including: Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, China, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Sweden, and the Netherlands. To date there are 406 Apple retail stores throughout the world (14 countries and regions).

As for Microsoft? You might be surprised to know that Microsoft first had a retail presence prior to Apple. It was called microsoftSF and was located in San Francisco from 1999 to 2001 (but was actually owned and operated by Sony Retail Entertainment). 

Microsoft's first retail stores, known as the Microsoft Store, first opened on the same date as the Windows 7 launch: October 22, 2009 in Scottsdale, Arizona. They'd open another store in Mission Viejo, California a week later. Unlike Apple, however, there is only 1 Microsoft Store located outside the United States. And it's located in Toronto, Canada having opened in November 2012. 

Microsoft, also unlike Apple, doesn't just have traditional retail stores, but also "specialty stores" which, according to Microsoft:

offer a curated selection of the best Microsoft products, including Surface, Xbox, Windows 8 PCs and Phones.

Having exchanged my Touch Cover at a Microsoft Specialty Store, I can tell you they're very much a kiosk (depending on the locale) and not anything like a full retail presence. 

Since the first Microsoft Store's launch in October 2009, there have been a total of 36 full retail stores opened (with an additional 31 being specialty stores). Microsoft has plans to open 3 additional stores by June: Miami, St. Louis, and Natick. They have additional plans for another 6 stores..but without any definitive opening date.

If you're thinking that Microsoft's strategy for their retail presence is a conservative one, I'd be inclined to agree. They appear to be very methodical about their openings, relying more-so on their specialty stores to fill the blanks while they determine new full store locations.

But here are some metrics to further drive home that point:

  • Apple
    • 251 stores in the United States
    • 406 stores worldwide
    • First opened 12 years ago in May, 2001
  • Microsoft
    • 36 full stores, 31 kiosks worldwide
    • First opened 3 and a half years ago in October, 2009

Apple's retail presence grows at a clip of 34 stores per year. They have 11 times the number of full Microsoft Stores. They have 154 more stores internationally than Microsoft. 

If we include the kiosks? There are 4 kiosks in Canada. The other 27 are in the United States as of this writing. That's a total of 67 stores for Microsoft. Apple still has 6 times the number of stores if we're including kiosks.

Microsoft's presence has grown at a clip of 19 per year if you include kiosks, but only 10 per year if you just include the full stores. 

These are important numbers to note because not only is Microsoft young when it comes to selling hardware outside of Xbox and accessories...but also from a retail presence..especially internationally. They started selling their Surface line exclusively online and at their retail stores until December.

As Microsoft's retail presence grows, we'll continue to see them sell more of their branded products...especially Surfaces.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view