Microsoft has announced it will be permanently closing all its retail stores and refocusing its efforts on online storefronts and customer service.
The stores have had a rocky time in terms of popularity since their inception and it seems likely that the pandemic and the fact the stores have had to remain shut since March was the final straw. Instead of reopening its roughly 100 stores, Microsoft will be transforming four of its locations - New York City, London, Sydney and Redmond in Washington - into "experience centres" to showcase new products to the public rather than sell things directly or offer customer support. The rest will all be permanently shuttered.
On the plus side for staff affected, Microsoft reckons there will be no job losses through the closures. How? The plan is for Microsoft to go even more online than before. Current suggestions are that it will offer new services such as one-on-one video chats so customers can discuss a potential purchase online with a qualified member of staff. It's also expected that customer service will be expanded upon via services such as online tutorial videos and virtual workshops, all so that customers enjoy a similar experience as they did in store.
That happens to be the kind of service that's been occurring during the pandemic anyhow with much of the retail team deployed to train enterprise and education customers virtually when it comes to remote work and learning software, with many support calls also forming the basis of the retail team's work in recent times. Microsoft reckons that the team has hosted more than 14,000 online workshops and summer camps during this time.
Most of the Microsoft stores were located within the US so it's a plan that won't actually affect much for many customers, but it's notable given that Microsoft clearly tried to replicate the Apple Store experience but didn't quite succeed. Granted, the climate in recent times has hardly been conducive with the temporary closures no doubt affecting things, but generally physical stores are far more expensive to upkeep. Providing support remotely is simply far more cost-efficient.
It's expected that the closures will result in a pre-tax charge of approximately $450m which includes asset write-offs and impairments.
If you're reading this and thinking how you never made it to a Microsoft store, well, you've missed your chance now. You haven't really missed much though, but this still remains an interesting example of how the pandemic continues to change the retail and tech landscape.
September 15 2020 | 14:00