In 2009 Microsoft started opening retail locations, hoping to compete with the Apple Store. Over the past eleven years, and especially while I was still a Microsoft MVP and living in the Greater Toronto Area, I did a lot of work with the stores in Toronto and Mississauga, and wrote many articles about experiences at the other stores. I was one of the hosts and subject matter experts at the grand opening of both of those GTA locations, and made a lot of lasting friendships while helping out there. I cannot count how many lectures I delivered in their audience experience rooms.
While the launch parties were hugely successful and well-attended, the truth was that I have never visited a store that I considered to be overly busy. While the Apple Store in the same mall (and often just a few doors down) would be jammed with customers, the Microsoft Stores were never cursed with such problems. Sure, there were often people waiting for help with a service tech (who were always extremely competent), there was never a time when people had to wait in line to purchase products.
It is hard to believe that it has been more than seven years since I purchased the first commercially available Surface Pro at the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale… there had been a midnight launch event planned for the night before at the store in New York City, but that was cancelled due to a blizzard, and so as a Technical Evangelist with Microsoft Canada, when I walked into the store at 7:30am the morning they went on sale, I had the distinction of purchasing the first one in the world… partly thanks to a very friendly store manager (Alison), and my buddy CF who made it happen. Of course, part of the deal was recording an unboxing video in the store for my blog and YouTube channel.
Thanks to a number of Microsoft Store managers and employees, over the years I have upgraded from the Surface Pro to the SP2, SP3, and finally the Surface Pro 4 (my current device). I have purchased devices for my sons, (now ex-)wife, mother-in-law, friends, clients, and more. All from the Microsoft Store. Sometimes in Toronto or Mississauga, sometimes other locations (Redmond, Washington and Chicago, Illinois stick out, but there were others). While I am no longer affiliated in any way with Microsoft (save for myriad certifications and my MCT), it was a great relationship while it lasted.
Friday afternoon Microsoft announced that they have decided to exit the retail space. My understanding is that this was in the works for next year anyways, but was moved forward because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They will keep four stores open (Redmond Campus, New York City (Fifth Avenue), London (Oxford Circus), and Sydney, Australia (Westfield Sydney). However, they have also announced that these locations will be converted to ‘Experience Centres,’ and will not sell products.
While this is terribly disappointing to those of us who were always fond of the stores despite their ineffectiveness, it is not at all surprising. It is nice to know that Microsoft will not be laying off any of the retail employees, who have been working diligently to provide support to customers remotely during this pandemic.
“We deliberately built teams with unique backgrounds and skills that could serve customers from anywhere. The evolution of our workforce ensured we could continue to serve customers of all sizes when they needed us most, working remotely these last months. Speaking over 120 languages, their diversity reflects the many communities we serve. Our commitment to growing and developing careers from this talent pool is stronger than ever.”
– David Porter, Microsoft Corporate Vice President
For years I have known that Microsoft has never had one single business unit or product that it relied on entirely, so this will likely not affect the company. Knowing that the employees’ jobs are safe, I feel better about this decision. Still and all, it is somewhat sad.